Jeff is a self-made man: with his new condo and telecommuting job, cash, and good looks, he’d seem to have it all. Yet in the second story of this collection, “The Dealer”, author Richard Burgin creates a complicated persona that is distinctly childish and insecure. But he’s not simply a dumb guy; that would be too easy. Rather it’s the disparity between his sense and naivete that makes the character so intriguing. It’s not easy to write someone so complicated without the reader impatiently dismissing the character as stupid. Yes, he makes stupid choices, but it’s the normal ones that are the most revealing.
In the story, “The Dealer”, Jeff befriends a fast-talking musician that plays basketball in the neighborhood and conveniently supplies Jeff with pot. Of course, he has a cool name, “Dash”, and appears to be the role model that the more conventionally successful Jeff aspires to. Yet, as shown in the quote above, their friendship seems to be based on more of a nine-year-old awareness than a grown man; while they play basketball at the school, the clue is that Jeff calls it “the playground”. Burgin creates an uneasy relationship between the two that hinges on Jeff’s unwitting struggle to find a friend.
My favorite of the collection is “Memo and Oblivion,” a futuristic story about battling pharmaceutical companies, one of whom has created the pill “Memo” to restore every personal experience and memory to those that take it. “Oblivion” is marketed by another secret organization and promises “to obliterate only painful human memories.” Immediately the contrast engages the reader: which would they choose? To be able to remember the first time you bit into an apple? Or to be able to completely erase a painful event?
As the two companies struggle with trade secrets and human testing, the level of tension arises as to what side effects the pills may create. Burgin pokes at different concerns, from legality to ethics, as his characters discover for themselves that all choices have consequences, no matter how well-intended. This story could stand alone and would make a great movie.
"Memorial Day" tells of a grieving son, left with money to burn, travelling to find a purpose for his suddenly empty life. In London, he meets a woman that defies his expectations, and vice versa. The two are strangely connected, and what ends up happening reminds the reader of the adage, "he who hesitates is lost".
While the stories are random and varied, all have a sense of humor and a wry look at modern life. They leave the reader sensing that they need to answer for themselves the questions that were cleverly proposed and threaded into the narratives.
Special thanks to Johns Hopkins University Press in Baltimore for the Advance Review Copy.
It was just released this month.