In this his first book, Robert McDowell writes narrative poems that entertain, amuse and enrich. His characters are assorted middle-class failures, dismayed suburbanites who are often enamored of risk and violence. "It's good to feel the edge," says the bootlegger-aviator of the title poem as he strokes a straight razor. Most of McDowell's suburbanites have lost that "edge," the "need for something to run up against." They fear living their lives as lower-case letters among capitals (see "The Backward Strut"). Another of McDowell's images for these displaced selves is the cordless telephone.
In "The Disconnected Party," a speaker returns from 20 years in prison, sent up for viciously attacking the boss who fired him. Seeking contacts, he phones a former friend. When he can't get through, he breaks into his friend's suburban house, sees a stained, drab mess. In the study, he grabs a cordless phone, dials, but gets no signal. When a kitchen phone rings, he dashes for it but is too late--an answering machine is already whirring. Parts of our lives once misplaced can't be called back.
In "The Malady Lingers On," Bill Davis is always reassured evenings when he returns home and sees "Cat" in the window; he knows he's reached the right suburban home. Elsewhere, Tina, as lonely as he, hungers for him. Trying to locate him, she dials all the Davises in the phone book. Before she can reach him, however, Bill tries to hang himself. In "The Librarian After Hours," a librarian avoids suicide by developing her fantasies. When a real beekeeper and an architect fail to satisfy her, she rushes to a fantasized pioneer who eats opossums raw. She's now a frontier wife in a covered wagon, an image she relates to her librarianship: She's an "outpost," "the chair with an ear,/the cook and comforter on desolation's porch."