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Dangerous Men

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In “Bluestown,” the closing story in Geoffrey Becker’s debut collection of eleven stories, the narrator, a fifteen-year-old boy on the run, out on the road with his father—an out-of-work musician—says, “What I liked above all things was the tortured sound of a guitar string, bent almost to the point of breaking.” These words are emblematic of Becker’s methods as a writer. In DANGEROUS MEN, Becker sings of the “tortured sound” of characters whose lives have been “bent almost to the point of breaking.” In prose that is musically fine-tuned, Becker speaks for men who are not exactly “dangerous,” as the book’s title might suggest, but those who are at risk of “breaking” down.

In “The Handstand Man,” brokenhearted Jimi-John Houser, a man who can play his harmonica while standing on his hands, in a desperate attempt to win back the affections of a girl he met while touring Europe, turns his seedy, one-room apartment into a sand-bag replica of the beach where they first fell in love. Even Jimi-John himself realizes that his efforts to step back into time, to recapture whatever magic they once might have tapped into, is nothing but a ridiculous, last-ditch act of humiliation: a man who has been standing on his hands for so long he no longer knows up from down. What had seemed to be “all along such a brilliant idea” left him “feeling as disconnected as the cord dangling from his toaster.” At the story’s end, “it occurred to him that he had no place to go and no particular goals.”

Still, for Jimi-John, as for many of the characters about whom Geoffrey Becker sings the blues, the music goes on playing. The story is not over: not even when that last page is turned, and the lights on stage slowly fade to black.