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Exotic Dancers

by Gerald Lynch

On opening night at a strip club in the Troutstream Arms, a performer with the evocative name of Burnadette is nearly incinerated when her spectacular Joan of Arc routine goes awry. As the patrons gawk, she snarls in disgust, “How do people live like this?” Burnadette is out of there, fast, her survival instincts in full gear.
The title of Gerald Lynch’s new novel is a salute to society’s outsiders, struggling to stay on their feet. In Lynch’s return to the mean postindustrial streets of Troutstream, his much-praised 1995 novel, his characters fight a fate worse than death – turning into losers. Maggie and Joe, both “rationalized” out of jobs and dumped by more successful spouses, struggle to parent angst-ridden teenagers, Maggie’s surly Jonathan, Joe’s hockey-obsessed Holly. Meanwhile they resist a mutual attraction tinged with loathing.
Exotic Dancers is told through the voices of its central characters and a few peripheral ones, such as Maggie’s ornery father and Joe’s awful ex-wife. There is also an unnamed first-person narrator and passages of third-person prose. This switching of perspectives is occasionally awkward, but Lynch offsets the distraction by moving readers briskly through the town of Troutstream’s sacred spaces – the bingo hall, the Miss Cue Family Sports Bar, the hockey arena where Maggie has a vision of humanity in meltdown.
When the pace does slow for set pieces on downsizing, knee-jerk feminism, or over-diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, Lynch usually scores direct hits, coaxing wit, irony, and occasional hilarity out of human desperation. Occasionally, as in the parent-teacher interview with the unfortunately gaseous Mrs. Mackery, he moves too far into satire and breaks the illusion of fictive reality. These instances are rare, and Exotic Dancers remains enormously readable, rich, and unsettling.