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.
In Head Full of Traffic, ostensibly labeled a collection of horror pieces, Ames skillfully adds his own flair to the genre. In “Carnival,” a crazed carnie imagines an apocalyptic Midway. “Weeb staggers away from the Fun House, swivels that cornpone head when he hears tearing metal. Carriages of the Octopus rocket into space, occupants trailing one long scream. To his right, up against one of the Port-a-Potties, a carnie’s smacking a skank’s head with a ring-toss bottle. The glass slowly reshapes the skank’s melon with each blow, as if his head were fashioned from children’s clay.” The savage yet humorous prose sets an intoxicating mood until the reader, like Weeb, cannot distinguish delusion from reality. In many of the pieces in Head Full of Traffic, Ames relies a bit heavily on the horrific denouement to close the deal, as in “Istvan the Painter,” where a woman is ravished by the eyes of the title character, and realizes she carries his demonic spawn in a forced epiphany: “‘Mama,’ it seemed to gurgle'” Not as psychologically subtle an ending as in, say, the “Turn of the Screw,” but effective in what the piece is attempting to accomplish.
Overall, Ames doesn’t allow his spectacular plot elements to overtake the conflicts of character nor the line-by-line writing itself, which is always a hallmark of fine fiction.