~ by David S. Atkinson
I always hate to display my ignorance, but I will be forthcoming here and admit that I was not familiar with the work of B. C. Edwards before grabbing a copy of his short story collection The Aversive Clause. However, despite my unfamiliarity and despite this being Edward’s first prose book (he is also the author of the poetry collection To Mend Small Children), I still had high expectations.
After all, The Aversive Clause was the winner of the 2011 Hudson Prize. In addition to a long list of journal publications, Edwards has been nominated for a Pushcart and is a Literary Death Match Champion. I’ve even heard that one of the stories in this collection (“Illfit”) is being adapted by the Royal Ballet of Flanders. To make a long story short, I was expecting great things when I opened the cover.
Having opened this review in such a manner, I should immediately turn to whether or not my high expectations were satisfied. By way of answering my own question, let’s take a look at a portion from “The City of God is Your Town, America…If You Make an Effort!” as an example:
God descended to Earth into a lackluster soybean field somewhere in Kansas. “No,” he said when we asked him if it was the end of the world. “Oh heavens no, no, no,” and he waved his god-hands furiously causing minute divine ripples through the heat that ruined all our hairstyles. “No, really, no.” And God smiled like he was trying to convince us and him at the same time. And his smile was strange, awkward like the handshakes when you don’t realize you’ve met someone before and reintroduce yourself.
The story is definitely imaginative, presenting a vision of God as a bumbling politician who wants to become president of the United States. I don’t recall anyone’s vision of God ever saying “really, no,” much less running for president (particularly having to run upon having chosen to be president). This story is fantastical and deliciously fun.
However, not all the stories in this collection are fantastical. “My Recipe for the Best Tuna Salad in the World” takes the form of a fairly ordinary note to a former boyfriend that provides a requested tuna salad recipe, along with a liberal amount of residual anger from the failed relationship:
First, go and buy some cans of tuna. This is tricky because you’ll have to find a grocery store and I’m not sure you know what that is. It’s not a bodega where you go to buy beer nor is it the bottle shop where you get your wine. Or even the liquor store or bourbon. It’s something entirely new and different.
There is nothing in this story that couldn’t actually occur, but it is still as wild as the story above–and perhaps even funnier. The note keeps descending into vitriol, but each time it pops back up again to continue the recipe. God didn’t need to talk to keep me interested in this one.
I don’t want to give the impression that all of the stories in The Aversive Clause are works of humor. In fact, some of them are quite dark–full of heartbreak, desolation, and various other pains. I’ll just give this bit from “Goldfish” and hope that I don’t spoil the story (I have to show in order to explain, but I still want you to come upon it all as unknown when you read the story for the first time):
Her father had converted their basement into a romper room when she was fifteen…It was the most comfortable place on earth to Milo…He remembered Shelly and he was warm again, and full, and comfortable.
Shelly stared at him coldly.
“Don’t come a fucking inch closer, Milo.” Her expression was like steel. “How the fuck could you, Milo?” She said and she wanted to say more but all her words got caught in her throat and without another word, without taking a breath, she started to scream desperately and painfully. She wailed as loud as she could so that the lights in all the houses around him blinked on, one by one.
Full of the unbelievable and the ordinary, the funny and the heartbreaking, The Aversive Clause packs a great deal into a relatively small number of pages. Whether I was laughing or flinching, I kept right on reading. Whatever was going on, and regardless of how high my expectations were, Edwards surprised me on every page. You’ll have to pick up The Aversive Clause and see if you are as surprised and satisfied as I was.
David S. Atkinson received his MFA from the University of Nebraska. His writing has appeared in “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Interrobang?! Magazine,” “Atticus Review,” and others. His book, “Bones Buried in the Dirt,” was published in January 2013 by River Otter Press. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/