Home » Newpages Blog » Double Header

Double Header

Suzanne Burns’s Double Header is a slim chapbook comprised of just two short stories, “An Acquired Taste” and “Tiny Ron.” Both stories are full of magic (one more literally than the other), and both have marriage at their centers, both thematically and as plot devices.

Suzanne Burns’s Double Header is a slim chapbook comprised of just two short stories, “An Acquired Taste” and “Tiny Ron.” Both stories are full of magic (one more literally than the other), and both have marriage at their centers, both thematically and as plot devices.

In “An Acquired Taste,” Roland is a widowed magician who opens the story explaining that he could sometimes be found breaking glass, saying, “Goblets, mugs, tumblers, I threw them against the walls of Portland restaurants until waiters knew me and the ring I still wore.” During this dramatic coping process, he meets Lottie, a woman whose insatiable pica is a stark contrast to his dead wife’s anorexia:

Lottie promised not to die from her compulsion. On our second date she told me she understood, through trial and error, the near-fatal level of any product. One lick of bleach tingled along her every nerve. One bite of chalk dried her mouth like antiperspirant. One teaspoon of a particularly virulent brand of glue, though, had damaged her already myopic left eye. Afraid of going blind, Lottie crossed out bathroom cleaners and any other kind of solvent from her list, then added in postcards, coins, and her favorite, dirt.

As Roland and Lottie circle each other, each trying to explain the kind of marriage they want from the other, it becomes obvious that they have very different needs. These wants and desires are amplified by the failures of their first marriages, by Randall’s loneliness and Lottie’s need to try to feel normal. Common wisdom says marriage is about acceptance and compromise, but Lottie begs to differ, wanting something better, arguing that “being in love… should cancel out shame,” but also trying vainly to ward Randall off by protesting his optimism, noting that “better versions are impossible to find because there’s something wrong with everyone.” In a story full of heartbreak, it is hard not to cheer for Randall’s imagined version of their future together, but it is also easy to sympathize with Lottie’s reluctant heart, with her lacking self-esteem and ever-present cynicism.

“Tiny Ron” captures a couple at a different place in their relationship, opening with this attention-grabbing line, “The women who admire Tiny Ron have no idea how it feels being married to the world’s smallest man.” An eighteen-inch-tall actor, Ron is a self-absorbed, abusive lover, pinching and biting and otherwise injuring his wife. When the narrator suggests that she “[wants] to be one of those couples who convinces themselves that they love each other,” Ron disagrees, saying that “the more we focus on each other, the more we forget to hate ourselves. That’ll get us a lot further than love.”

Although it is thematically as strong as its counterpart, the less likable characters in “Tiny Ron” make it slightly harder to care about them or their problems, especially Ron, who for much of the story comes off as just another spoiled celebrity. By the end, both of them have revealed enough of what makes them tick to engage most readers, but they still don’t end up covering quite as much emotional territory as Roland and Lottie do in “An Acquired Taste.”

Suzanne Burns does an excellent job depicting the way we define our future with our past, and how the damage done to us by our last lover can make it hard to trust the next one or to see them for who they really are instead of just who we want them to be. The plots of both stories revolve around the way these kinds of expectations are both met and thwarted over the course of a courtship, and the final effect is a recognition that will take you to the core of your feelings about love and commitment. Double Header is a fine work of fiction, and well worth the afternoon it will take you to read it.

Spread the word!