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THE IDENTITY CLUB by Richard Burgin

THE IDENTITY CLUB

New and Selected Stories

By Richard Burgin

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2005
ISBN: 0-86538-115-1
Publisher: Ontario Review

This omnibus collection of 20 stories is packaged with a CD containing 20 love songs also written by Burgin.

That is this unnecessary volume’s only distinction. For Burgin, who teaches at Saint Louis University and has published three earlier collections (Fear of Blue Skies, 1997, etc.), is a monotonous writer who strikes the same chords repeatedly. Most of his characters are inchoate loners and losers, driven by the need for romantic or sexual connection, obsessed with defining, and thereby understanding, themselves. And they all sound the same: the timid ad man who finds initial stimulation, then confirmation of his darkest fears, among a group of men who emulate admired celebrities (“The Identity Club”); the vacationing banker who indulges fantasies of power and control in a brief borderline-homoerotic encounter with a clueless young stud (“Bodysurfing”); a would-be Lothario who picks up a beautiful girl in a bookstore but fails to ensnare her by concocting a story about his nonexistent marriage and his losses (“The Liar”); and the famous conductor who artfully seduces an admiring young journalist (“Song of the Earth,” which was later developed into Burgin’s 1999 novel, Ghost Quartet). There’s hardly a graceful image or an engaging turn of phrase here. And too many of its stories begin with hopeful meetings of strangers who’ve come together anticipating sex or love but end up either perpetrating or suffering verbal or physical abuse (“Vacation,” “The Horror Conference,” “With All My Heart,” “Carbo’s,” “The Urn,” etc). Only two stories rise above the general level of mediocrity: an unhappy husband’s fantasizing of hiring an unlikely new acquaintance to murder his wife (“Ghost Parks”); and a gradually exfoliating realization, in “The Victims,” that the seemingly brilliant friend whom its narrator admires and envies is, in fact, “a thirty-five-year-old man who’s never accomplished anything in his life.”

Depressing, banal, forgettable fiction.