Book Review: Readings

Wayne Wilson

Readings

Eddie & Bella

A Novel

by Wayne Wilson

Algonquin Books, 304 pp., $21.95

For the past 20 years or so, Algonquin has offered the reading public some of the best of contemporary American fiction. The house firmly established the careers of Kaye Gibbons, Clyde Edgerton, Cindy Bonner, and Carol Dawson, among countless others, including San Angelo resident Terry Pringle, who penned one of my personal favorites, The Preacher's Boy. Sadly, an era passed with the mid-1990s departure of editor Robert Rubin just a few years after Algonquin was acquired by the Workman Publishing Company, a trade publisher of lifestyle, self-discovery, how-to, and popular science-oriented nonfiction. But surprisingly, the house's fine tradition of literary fiction continues nonetheless as witnessed, sort of, by Eddie & Bella.

Author Wayne Wilson's second effort (after 1990's critically acclaimed Loose Jam) features textbook execution of the writer's craft. Wilson has a fine ear for dialogue. Not one single character in this title fails to distinguish him or herself as a distinct, individual voice. Regardless of whether our third-person narrator is an insurance salesman, country singer, or French Quarter street punk, the author renders their language true and authentic. Wilson's style is clean and vibrant, and his flair for description excels. The last light of the day "melted like butter between the buildings below"; one character "watches the night come dripping like blue tears through the trees ... his thoughts rattling and cracking together like wet rocks."

The novelist possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the various places we visit throughout this story. Scenes occur on both coasts and a few locales in-between, like New Orleans and the hardscrabble border towns of West Texas, all of which are vividly but unobtrusively detailed, providing Eddie & Bella with a strong sense of place.

If the novel has a weakness, it's the stumbling title characters. Eddie ("spiritual" name, Raphael) fancies himself a poet. The girls love him at first sight, and he's always got a line for them. Unfortunately for a poet, it's usually the same one. Poor Eddie doesn't know who he is, and he doesn't aspire to be much either. His lost love, the gorgeous, seductive, Bohemian Bella, fares a little better. She's got more drive, anyway, at least after she tires of the nomadic, drug abuser lifestyle. Of course, she's got a couple of children to worry about after she walked out on her stable, good-hearted, woodworking husband. Her daughters propel her toward steady employment and ultimately a little business of her own. She's coping. Eddie never wants much more than Bella, but after 20 years as a phony and a slacker, at least he's holding down a job at his saintly brother's video store. At any rate, following such people through their travails of poor judgment and self-inflected wounds gets a little tedious.

Nevertheless, Wayne Wilson offers us much promise. There is no mistaking this man's talent, even if he's failed to anchor his principal characters to clearly defined goals or temper them through conflict and adversity. Once he does, we're liable to find him sitting next to Oprah Winfrey. But for readers who didn't get fed up enough with their own blunders during the Eighties and Nineties, Eddie & Bella might be a reassuring read.


David Marion Wilkinson is the author of Not Between Brothers and Empty Quarter. His novel Oblivion's Altar is scheduled for publication next year.

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