Wednesday
Sep142011

The Mimic's Own Voice

By Tom Williams



Main Street Rag Publishing
April 2011
98 pages
978-1599482941

 

Reviewed by Brian Allen Carr


 

Tom Williams's sepia-scented debut, The Mimic's Own Voice, follows the rise and fall of the world's greatest mimic, Douglas Myles. In ninety-seven pages of brilliant wall-to-wall prose, Williams creates a parallel universe wherein comedy is studied by academics who spend great piles of time and money in their efforts to demystify comedians; at one point residue found on manuscript pages is tested for DNA.

Myles, our protagonist, can mimic anyone. He hears a voice once, and, with unmatched precision and command, can reproduce it perfectly. Myles's gift is beyond ordinary, perhaps divine, and his talents earn him the broadest fan base ever held by a comic. He is adored by bewildered fans for an act in which he mimics the great routines of previous comic elites, but also criticized by fellow comics as being, quite frankly, unfunny.

This rich novella is layered with social commentary:

He was born in the Middle West, in a middle sized city, known primarily then and now as a test market for fast food restaurants, the only child of Angela and Ellis Myles, a black mother and white father. In those days, such a combination was virtually unheard of, as at the time of their only son's birth, the Myles's union was only three years away from being illegal in many states.

Racial and social complications continue as Myles climbs the comedic ranks, most notably with his difficulty in finding allegiances within the comedic circuit, and late in his career when he is confronted by three white fans whose attention he finds terrifying.

Beyond the highly imaginative storyline, Williams has done wonders with the style and tone of Mimic--a sort of high register, heavily melodic hum leads us carefully alongside Myles throughout his tragic trajectory. Take for example this discussion of his memoir, and the publisher's perceived reluctance to release it:

This leads, though, to the second area of evidence, or actual lack of it, which is likely a reason why the publishers who had prepared huge bids for the manuscript lost interest after reading it: nowhere does Myles present a step-by-step manual for how to become a mimic, nor does he detail a chance meeting with the mysterious Tibetan monk, skilled at the art of vocal chord manipulation. No magic. No training regimen, now complex system of verbal calisthenics to maintain his skills…One thing Myles insists upon throughout the manuscript--in the few taped interviews one hears similar statements--is that his talent was equal parts a gift from a kindly deity and an accident of genetics. 

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Williams, and I asked about the longer sentence approach, and, with an ease indicative of Williams's laid back charm, he semi-dismissed his ability in this regard, instead opting to attribute the cadences and rhythms of the prose to a parody of academic writing. And while I understand that initially Williams's aims may have been such, his parody of the style has birthed a new beast, much as Voltaire's Candide (essentially a parody of quest literature) became a precursor to absurdism, and Cervantes' Don Quixote (a parody of chivalrous tales) laid the groundwork for post-modernism. The Mimic's Own Voice--which again like Don Quixote functions around multiple analyses of the protagonist--does not play as a parody, because it squashes the mode it seeks to poke fun at. This mirrors Myles's career itself; while initially it was nothing more than a mimic of preexisting comedy routines, it became the most popular comic act of its time because it was something that no other comedian was able to do. Here another parallel exists: Williams' long-legged prose is not matched in the indie lit world. Go and try to find another sentence-crafter as methodical and musical. It can't be done.  I hope to see more work of this caliber, parody or otherwise.