Book Review : David James Keaton - Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days (2018)
There’s nothing conventional about David James Keaton’s writing. I mean, it reads conventionally enough, but it has that colloquial and byzantine quality of stories told by overly friendly strangers lurking in strip malls or shady theaters. The kind of stranger who your reptilian brain is convinced will murder you. Perhaps none of his books embody that feeling better than his new short story collection Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days, stories about sharing roads and highways with overly friendly strangers and then some. It’s witty, winding and unsettling in the best possible way.
Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days has an impressive amount of material. A lot of new, but a lot of old material, too. That means you’re not always reading the David James Keaton we all know and love, in there. There’s an evolution curve and a historical perspective of Keatonism (explained in the paragraph above) to it. For example, the first two stories First Story Ever and The Ear Eater of Jasper County share Keaton’s obsessions over bizarre, otherwise mundane encounters gone wrong, but don’t have the same tone at all. They read like they were written by different people.
But although he’s developed a reliable one over the years, tone isn’t why one would read David James Keaton. It’s for this parallel dimension his stories trap you in. For example, there’s a story called A Dull Boy in there, narrated by the adult version of Danny in The Shining. Who the fuck even thinks about writing a story like that? It’s not the most eventful in the collection, but it’s nonetheless riveting to read the fictional thoughts of a man defined by something he did in his childhood. It does fit Keaton’s road-as-a-state-of-mind theme for this collection: transient encounters, common ground experiences redefined, things that may or may not have happened in the night. Things that are seemingly unrelated, but aren’t.
There are more conventional road stories in Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days, though. So that you get what you paid for. And not that they exactly blend into one another, but many are written in a first person perspective and end up feeling like they’re chapters from the life of the same drifting loon. Crazy, winding tales like El Kabong, Forced Perspective or Taco Hell for example are narrated so similarly, it’s like it all happened to the same guy. But it’s part of the fun of reading David James Keaton. He is a master of authorial interruption and Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days reads like a weird and dangerous guy is trying to force the stories of his life in there. I got a huge kick out of that.
If David James Keaton was a recording artist, he’d be like The Melvins or The Swans, an uncompromising cult figure with strange ideas. That would make Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days his collection of B sides and rare cuts. It’s not always his best material, but it’s a joy for completists (like me) and it has an intimate and organic vibe to it that doesn’t necessarily translate to his cleaner, slicker material. I liked Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days, but I was already sold to David James Keaton’s writing before even starting it. It’s the full experience of what his writing feels like. Oh, and it may or may not make you feel paranoid of every stranger you come across while traveling.