Captive Audience by Dave Reidy

Posted: December 6, 2009 in Book Reviews
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Performers take center stage in Dave Reidy’s debut collection, Captive Audience, though the characters in these stories don’t always get to stand in the spotlight.  Whether it’s in music, film, stand-up comedy, sports, or graphic arts, the people that encompass the pages of this book desire to present their work and themselves—in one way or another—to a specific audience.  And even though, at times, they seem to push away most people, these characters seek acceptance, or at the very least a connection, from someone who they hope will understand them.

Reidy uses this idea as a vehicle for motivating his characters, giving them something to strive toward.  In, “Thingless,” a boy entering high school learns an important lesson about how people perceive situations differently.  While trying to carve out his own niche and avoid getting lost in a social void, Kyle takes up the guitar, which he also hopes will help him reconnect with neighbor and longtime friend, Starlee.  She serves as his primary source of motivation, his desired audience.  When he discovers a shocking truth about what she does in her house while he plays for her in his, this becomes a story about the loss of innocence.

Which is what Reidy excels at in this collection: creating richly layered narratives that work on multiple levels.  He uses individual’s performances to tell a variety of stories.  In “Postgame,” a former NBA sharpshooter hosts a camp for high school basketball players, waiting for the opportunity to reenter the league.  The focal character in “Dancing Man,” is a musician whose claim to fame doesn’t come from his proficiency on the keyboard.  His quirky, somewhat out-of-control, dance moves allow him a spot on stage with the ska band that originally hired him to play piano.  Essentially, he becomes a sideshow, a gimmick the band needs in order to amp up its stage presence.  In both of these stories, the central characters adapt to circumstance by sacrificing their passions.  The result of which initially leaves them with a sense of isolation from others, as well as themselves.

The title story showcases this theme most prominently.  It features a character that defines isolation: a man who suffers from agoraphobia.  Unable to leave his apartment, Jim devotes most of his day to playing comedy records in a strict and heavy rotation.  When a comedy club opens in the vacant space below his unit, his attention turns toward an aspiring comedian named Tony Cascarino.  Jim listens from the safety and solitude of his apartment, following the evolution of Tony’s craft from amateur night to his spot as an opening act.  The only direct connection Jim has to the outside world comes through phone calls and visits from his dad.  When Jim begins to connect with Tony, taking the role of a pseudo father figure, he does so indirectly, maintaining a secluded existence.

The theme of isolation can be seen in each story; it acts as another thread holding together the collection.  Reidy explores this theme through subject matter and from character insight, but he also develops it through pop culture references, most of which come from music.  A layperson audience might not get all theses references, and that’s where the some of the isolation surfaces.  Whether it’s an indie rock band, like Neutral Milk Hotel, or an obscure song from a mainstream act, like Journey—the characters in these stories are very knowledgeable of pop culture.  At times, it feels like they’re a part of some semi-exclusive club, closing themselves off from others by creating their own intangible barriers.

Reidy tells these stories using crisp, clean prose.  The details and images never seem frivolous.  They work to reinforce what the characters think and feel, or they shed new light on what the characters are reluctant to share.

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