Two Voices

by Bruce Edmundson
68 pages,
ISBN: 0887506658

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The narrator of the title story, an 18-year-old incarcerated for dealing LSD, hears a second voice in fellow-convict Silver's primarily unspoken seductive advances. In a floor hockey game, after the narrator has rejected him, Silver "swung his stick and smacked me square in the balls." The narrator spends the next day in his cell reading Madame Bovary. Unfortunately, the story peters out after that delightful absurdity and concludes with a commonplace, macho retaliation.
Yet a homo-affectional tone infuses the six other stories, and the few female characters are not well served. Sally-Sue, the catalyst for "The Man Who Would Be Clown" is "an oh-so-sweet sixteen, with a wardrobe of nothing but pink clothes to match her pink hair." In "The Fence," young Ryan's mother becomes the external focus for his fear of paternal abandonment. When she reveals herself capable of experiencing fear, she "reminded him of [a] snake." After that,
Ryan decapitates a snake and "smiled at the small pool of blood."
In "Mr. Webster Can't Remember," Mrs. Webster has a single moment of glory. Finding work as a cocktail waitress, "she was fired three times for slapping male customers." Too strong for Edmundson's fictive world, she is barren, of course, and dies. Mr. Webster carries on, kidnapping dolls - sons - and buying lottery tickets. Dreams can survive a failure of memory.
When progeny are replaced by Cabbage Patch Kids, and women by inanimate objects, as in "Doll Meets Mannequin," Edmundson is best able to exercise his faculty for human sympathy, creating a sharp portrait of the needs and desires men expose in their hunger for companionship, presented here as life's singular value.
The use of language and the construction of the stories are competent; if Edmundson is able to broaden his range in another collection, Two Voices will be, retrospectively, promising..

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