Caleb J. Ross' booklikes

The official booklikes blog of author Caleb J. Ross.

The Mimic's Own Voice

The Mimic's Own Voice - Tom    Williams (this review originally appeared at Outsider Writers Collective)The Mimic’s Own Voice often reads with the linguistic dexterity of a Jose Saramago novel, while skillfully stripping away Saramago’s notorious intimidation; and who couldn’t come to love a book like that?Myles Douglas is a professional mimic. When compared to contemporary stand-up comedy, which often seems fueled by equal parts nonchalant irreverence (Mitch Hedberg, Eugene Mirman) and observational word play (Demetri Martin) with a tinge of irony (Anthony Jeselnik), the mimic as a performer exudes a nostalgic innocence. And in the case of Myles Douglas this innocence perfectly captures both the major appeal and the minor annoyances of Tom Williams’ The Mimic’s Own Voice.A mimic does not simply impersonate. A mimic becomes the impersonated, and no one could so consistently and convincingly embody a person better than Myles Douglas. This idea of misplaced identity permeates the novella: he is bi-racial; hipsters form the basis of his first professional mimicry (“…he represented an entire movement, as none came before or after him—who’d thought to mimic the mimics?” pg. 17); the format of the book itself reads as a commentary of a found autobiography (2nd person perspective, no less); the aforementioned oft-labyrinthine prose; and perhaps the most intriguing layer, Myles’ first professional audio recording of his act lacks any trace of the mimic himself:“Scholars now ponder if the absence of “personality” displayed here—in addition, Myles’ own voice isn’t heard—signals the disappearance of his own sense of self” (pg. 51).These layers create not a story in the traditional, Aristotelian sense but instead a story that motivates the reader by exploiting the inherent voyeur in all of us. Just as Myles needs only a few spoken words from his subject to embody him/her (and eventually not even that much; toward the end of the novella Myles requires only an index card with a name and answers to a few trivial personal questions), the reader takes what is known of Myles—as digested and articulated via comedy scholars—to develop the empathy that seems to be the key to Myles’ amazing ability. To read The Mimic’s Own Voice is to become a mimic.The above parenthetical aside deserves some elaboration. This slow change from what could be described as just a teenage impressionist (albeit an amazing one) to a man who can literally replace his persona with that of another person without any prior interaction with said person, becomes the heartbreaking crux of the novella. We never really know Myles. Yet, the reader is never bored, will never accuse Tom Williams of duping the reader out of a story. In fact, all we really know of Myles, other than his philanthropic lifestyle (more on this later), is revealed via a few short scenes of Myles alone, one of which:“…twenty year old Myles, thin as the pasta he boiled in his one pot, with a shaved head—the only haircut he knew how to administer—standing in the middle of a tidy but empty living room, brightening the darkness and chasing away the silence by reproducing the voices of his dead relations” (pg. 12)Myles, for the most part—and this is where the “minor annoyance” bit from above comes in—plays the idiot savant trope to a degree that steals much of the potential relatability. He may simply be too good, too likable. He is quiet, reserved, and infinitely humble, qualities that his comic brethren/competitors criticize constantly throughout the story, which forces these qualities to remain top-of-mind for the reader. We never see him angry. We never see him vengeful. But I suppose, who, if not a profession mimic, could at least feign contention so convincingly?