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I suspect, based on B. C. Edwards’ stories, that anyone who uses a Forrest Gump metaphor to describe Edwards’ short-story collection, The Aversion Clause, will befall a strange fate. But here goes anyway—The Aversion Clause: box of chocolates.
It’s a testament to Edwards’ talent that he’s able to write in many different registers and modes, from the realist dysfunctional family dynamic in “Bigger Than All These Buildings” to more fantastical work, and, not surprisingly, it’s those stories that stand out more.
Indeed, when Edwards lets his imagination run wild, it goes in astonishing directions. The media crews following a Tyrannosaurus Rex in “Eugene and the News,” for instance, contribute to a feeding frenzy, both metaphorically and literally. “Evitative” not only includes an apocalypse, but throws in primal regression, tree house fortresses, and cannibals, to boot. Edwards is fearless in his imaginings and, better yet, isn’t above occasionally getting silly, from the cocaine-loving acrobats in “Tumblers” to the accidentally-ingested passenger bus of “Still Here/Help.”
A few times, though, Edwards seems to rest a little too much on the concept, which makes those particular stories feel like shaggy dog stories. “My Recipe for the Best Tuna Salad in the World,” though humorous, falls into this category, and while “The City of God Is Your Town, America… If You Make an Effort” answers the hypothetical question of What if God decided to run for President?, it doesn’t carry this idea far enough. The story ends on a punchline, whereas if it had gone the Steven Millhauser route and pushed the story to its extreme edges, it would have taken on even more fascinating dimensions.
Indeed, some of Edwards’ stories evoke other authors who also play between the real and the fantastic. The robotic corporate-speak of “Doppelgangers Local 525” and “Looking Through Transparent Things” recalls George Saunder’s scathing satires, while the fairy tale qualities of “Illfit” bring to mind Aimee Bender’s “The Healer.”
But in his most successful stories, Edwards merges the fanciful with a strong emotional core, which gives those fantastic elements a deeper, metaphorical meaning, particularly when paired with queer characters. In “Invasion of the Hittites,” for instance, the gay house-flippers who discover a seemingly never-ending metal sculpture in the basement of their latest project are confronted with their own impermanence and the nature of grief itself. Similarly, “The Providence of Angels,” with its subtle allusions to Angels in America, examines the immensities of faith.
Edwards also uses familiar tropes in less familiar ways. Even though the zombie outbreak in “Sweetness” differs little from the run-of-the-mill zombie, Edwards’ story draws unique comparisons: the zombifying infection invites comparisons to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the roving zombie-killing hordes appear almost indistinguishable from gay bashers. Throw in a reference the Armin Meiwes case, and the trope rises from its grave, refreshed.
So while not all the stories in The Aversion Clause will be to everyone’s taste, the diversity in the stories themselves will keep people sampling. And, more often than not, there will be a flavor that lingers on the tongue, long after the sugar rush has faded.
The Aversive Clause
By B.C. Edwards
Black Lawrence Press
Paperback, 9781937854256, 176 pp.