The Ballad of Road Mama and Daddy Bliss.

That is one helluva title.

It’s a short story/novella from Gary Braunbeck’s book Destinations Unknown. Not only is it the best titled story of the three in Unknown, it’s also the best story.

I had never read Braunbeck until this, but I had certainly heard the name. What I had heard was good, and when I plopped down to read Unknown, saw the title “The Ballad of Road Mama and Daddy Bliss,” I hoped the story was as good as the title. It was.

In a nutshell, “Bliss” is about a man who is forced to do some community service because of a D.U.I. His service entails working with the city morgue picking up bodies. On his first pickup, he notices something very strange about the body, and ends up getting involved in something unworldly.

The second story, “Congestion,” centers around a man who is having an apparent heart attack, while he’s stuck in a traffic jam.

“Merge Right,” the third and final story, has a business man driving on a desolate highway, where every sign is telling him to “merge right.”

As you can see, all three stories are highway themed, and all three stories are good. But “Bliss” really stood out for me because of the way it was told (or written). This is not only a good story to hear at a bar over a beer or three, but Braunbeck tells it like that, as well. There’s something about his ‘voice’ in that particular story that was very compelling, and I felt like he was talking to me, as opposed to me reading it.

But here’s the kicker — and this will be discussed in another entry — there’s a subplot in “Bliss.” At first it seemed like a throwaway. The main character talks about his boss, and how he and his boss, when they were teens, were involved in the cleaning of a house after some bad shit went down. Bad shit that involved wiping the blood off walls. And I figured it was just a little character development because it was discussed only briefly and not brought up again. Oh, no. I found out the night after I finished reading the book that there was much more to that story.

And it was very weird how I learned what happened.