I struggled with whether I ought to review this book for The Horror Syndicate or not. I know I started my review of Annihilation with a brief bit of musing on the meaning of horror, but The Bus On Thursday pushes those boundaries even harder. I picked it up because my local library placed it on the horror shelf. The back of the book refers to it as “terrifying” and “oppressively suspenseful”. And it is certainly those things. But is it horror?
The Bus On Thursday tells the story of a woman in her mid-30s who has recently survived breast cancer, resulting in a single mastectomy. She narrates her experiences as she attempts to start over in a new, small town with a hilariously dark, sarcastic and bitter tone. I don’t know if the author has had her own brush with cancer, but the narrator feels like a person who has looked death in the face and found it rather mundane.
Nothing in the town our narrator washes up in is overtly horrifying, or even drawn from horror tropes. There are no mad old men manning the gas station, or decrepit groundskeepers warning her to keep inside after dark. Instead, there’s just a little school, some strange people, and a house with too many locks on the doors. Add in the fact that she is replacing the old school teacher, who was similarly aged and went missing unexpectedly, and the sense of something being wrong slowly builds upon you.
Throughout the book the narrator gives us small glimpses into the unexpected, by me at least, aspects of surviving such a life altering disease. She repeatedly makes reference to not having had her nipple “done yet”, referring to the cosmetic surgery needed to make her reconstructed breast appear as if it were unaltered. She also suffers much darker concerns, frequently worrying if things many would consider minor irritations might be symptoms of metastasizing tumors.
To make matters worse, strange things begin to creep up. Inappropriate relationships abound. The children of the town refuse to accept their new teacher, and the school administrators continually compare her to her missing predecessor. And throughout this all, a strange bus seems to be following her. The whole here is greater than the sum of the parts, and all these aspects combine to create an atmosphere of pervasive dread, even while you say to yourself ‘but nothing bad has happened’.
What ultimately led me to decide I should review The Bus On Thursday is not some decision about whether or not it was horror, or where the boundaries of horror even are. No, I decided to review it because I so thoroughly enjoyed the book I wanted to encourage all of you to read it as well. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a slow creeper of a story, or anyone who likes dark humor. When you’re done, maybe we can all discuss whether it ought to be shelved in Horror or not.