Erica Van Horn is on the road in By Bus
Erica Van Horn
Ugly Duckling Press
Erica Van Horn’s By Bus is a meditation on wheels, one that explores the joy, the adventure, the sadness, and the marvel that journeys by public transportation can reveal, the bus a catalyst for human energy. Community happens spontaneously, travelers on public transportation make connections and brief friendships, or empathetic connections while going from one place to the next, and Van Horn’s chapbook of creative non-fiction becomes the vehicle for sharing these stories in all their intersections.
Ireland is a country small with a vibrant bus infrastructure, and Van Horn captures the whimsy, the cruel, the awful, and the obsessions as people of all kinds mingle, each a kind of microcosm of Ireland, and certainly a microcosm of the middle class. The collection opens with “Sharing a Seat”, about a woman who “spoke in a loud and constant ramble to the man next to her.” It’s an apt opening story, it reveals humanity’s eccentricities manifesting in socially awkward exchanges. In "Sharing a Seat", the seatmate speaks in sentences that “had no full stops and she never paused for a breath.” The woman insists that she can “Tell the Weather” before she then curtly snaps at her seatmate “Why would I tell you anyway? It’s not like I know you”. The strange interaction frames the energy of Van Horn's prose.
Throughout By Bus, Van Horn interacts with people in small crises, bosses angry over a miscommunication, persistent skin irritations, often surfacing as the seatmate or passengers speak loudly into their cell phones. Sometimes Van Dorn is amused by the interactions, a kind of low-grade absurdism unfolds through By Bus, often created because the speaker is listening in on someone’s life for which she has no context, and as a traveler, and as a writer, and as as a human being, Van Dorn creates and constructs, making meaning from only hearing half the phone call, or only hearing part of the story as it unfolds as bus ride continues.
That’s where By Bus draws its power, its voice constructs context for life that spills out into the public. Humanity is messy, imperfect, and doesn’t fit into boxes or categories. The author is both conspirator, imagining what other people's lives are like, as well as a passive participant of the action as life unfolds on trips back and forth across Ireland.
Stephen Scott Whitaker (@SScottWhitaker) is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the co-editor of The Broadkill Review. A teaching artist with the Virginia Commission for the Arts, an educator, and a grant writer, Whitaker’s poems have appeared in Fourteen Hills, The Shore, Crab Creek Review, & The Citron Review, and other journals. Mulch, a novel of weird fiction is forthcoming from Montag Press in 2021.