The Mimic’s Own Voice

In The Mimic’s Own Voice, Tom Williams offers a charming and intelligent meditation on, among other things, identity, the anxiety of influence, and the vagaries of fortune and fame in our postmodern world. The mimic in question, at least as far as the narrative is concerned, is Douglas Myles, a man of a thousand voices who ascends almost accidentally to international acclaim when his preternatural ability to imitate the voice of anyone he meets first lands him a series of gigs at local comedy hot spots and then, in classic showbiz style, leads him to a career-making appearance on national television and a slew of subsequent live shows and tours in increasingly larger venues.

Yet this vividly imagined and meticulously wrought novella isn’t merely a chronicle of the spectacular rise and tragic fall of a media superstar. In many ways, The Mimic’s Own Voice is a mystery, for Douglas Myles is a cipher on par with Melville’s Bartleby or Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. Indeed, if personality, as Fitzgerald speculates in The Great Gatsby, is “an unbroken series of successful gestures,” then Myles is personality personified — a floating signifier whose substance remains at best unknown and at worst nonexistent.

To put it another way, Myles easily serves as a stand-in for every pretty face in our media-saturated galaxy of stars, and Williams’ nuanced treatment of the character (or, perhaps more accurately, absence of such) offers telling commentary on our culture’s relationship with the celebrities we worship: we can laud, we can decry, we can observe, and we can speculate, but we can never really know them. That the same can be said of our relationships with even our most intimate of friends only deepens the import of the novella.

In terms of style, Williams himself becomes a bit of mimic by employing the pitch-perfect tone of a scholarly monograph. This strategy benefits the narrative in many ways, not the least of which is that it allows the humor to remain mercilessly dry a la the best moments of Monty Python’s Flying Circus while the narrator observes the mimic from an objective distance. Additionally, the tone of the novella places it in good company by calling to mind Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, arguably the most studied paradigm of imaginary scholarship ever produced.

Engaging, intelligent, humorous, and moving, The Mimic’s Own Voice is the work of a master storyteller and meticulous wordsmith — a great read in every sense.

– Review by Marc Schuster

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