Corpus Christi doesn’t shy away from backstory but gives ten examples of how to do it right. Set in a town often hit by hurricanes, these stories show characters living in the eye of their own personal crises, in the fragile moments when their lives are coming apart. Some characters are stuck and unable to move forward. Others stand on the cusp of imminent loss, unable to forge a different future. Each story has a clearly established front story and the frequent flashback scenes do more than provide backstory ... Since the front stories are so heavily influenced by the past, the characters’ entire lives are potential material that could be plucked and placed into the story ... The flip side is that the front story plotlines tend to be short, in terms of the number of scenes and actions that take place. This makes the stories feel moody and sometimes slow moving, rather than suspenseful.
In his promising debut collection, Johnston travels through time and across socioeconomic divides to present a series of nuanced portraits of middle-aged, middle-American loneliness in all its permutations ... It is the emotional landscape that interests the author, not the physical, and, without lapsing into sentimentality, he evokes a peculiarly American brand of abject loneliness and tentative optimism ... In Corpus, memory summons loneliness rather than banishing it, and 'calm [is] born not of hope... but of hope's absence.'
The world that Johnston brings us into is at once familiar and oddly surreal, for the author writes with great attention to detail and nuance—and with an apparent inability (or reluctance) to create a coherent narrative that could allow one to understand why a particular story is being told. The resulting portraits are not stories so much as sketches ... Lugubrious reading, more like workshop exercises than glimpses of real life.