If his two latest short story collections are indicative, Brian Ames ’85 is a prolific writer of unsettling talent. Releasing both Head Full of Traffic and Eighty-Sixed: A Compendium of the Hapless in 2004, Ames packs 22-plus pieces into each collection. Granted, many of the works run only a few pages long, but these are stories brief only in word length. Rich language and dense atmospheres are Ames’s literary tools, and he manages to convey entire tableaus in single sentences. “He doesn’t fully comprehend meter or rhythm, only understands the voltage through his cortex, manifested in sudden spastic knee bouncing, rapid articulation, back and forth, of his head.” And thus, the first story in Eighty-Sixed, “The Man Who Loves Jimi Hendrix,” is a harbinger of the rest of the collection. From story to story, Ames drastically shifts beats, not allowing the reader to predict what thematic notes he will strike next. This discordant quality drives the collection along. A writer sells fake anecdotes to addicts and drunks in recovery; a modern-day Cyclops is stood up on his wedding day; Ajax, Hector, and Dionysus make appearances. It’s as if in many of these stories ancient gods and heroes are manifested as frail humans, unaware of their divinity. Guns and weapons also play a large part in Eighty-Sixed. In the story “Physics Package,” a man purchases a black market sidewinder missile and discovers it growing like a living thing into an intercontinental doomsday device. “Van found in this a powerful metaphor for coming miracles.” Dinosaurs, dodos, and other extinct creatures are illustrated on the book’s cover alongside a hapless human. Ames seems to be saying our continued existence on this planet is far from assured.
It’s obvious Ames is passionate about language, and he manages to skillfully entertain and disturb at the same time.