The International Writers Magazine

A MOUTH LIKE YOURS by Daniel Duane
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, 194 pp.  ISBN: 0-374-21732-7
A Charlie Dickinson Review

Nearly ten years ago, Daniel Duane set a high standard for creative nonfiction in his debut, CAUGHT INSIDE: A SURFER'S YEAR ON THE CALIFORNIA COAST.  Narrative authenticity and lyrical writing marked Duane as a writer to watch.

The novel A MOUTH LIKE YOURS, Duane's latest title is about a topic overworked editors at publishing houses might prefer to skip: tangled, often failing, love relationships among twenty-somethings.  That is, the common life experiences budding novelists often transmute into fiction. Nonetheless, Duane has gone ahead and fashioned a romance complicated by narrator Cassius Harper's need to choose between two women.

       Cassius has done a number of things right (and nears completion of a PhD in English at Berkeley), but in other respects, comes across as Clueless Chump.  Twenty-eight with no strong ambition to make much of his education.  Gripped by apathy, he is an obvious contrast to his sometime girlfriend Shauna, who is busy flying cross-country to interview for a number of possible post-doc opportunities.  Cassius spins his wheels between visits to her loft and also pursues (or is pursued by) a second woman.

       If Shauna doesn't inspire Cassius to a plan of action by example, Joan Artois, who by all rights should be out of his reach, offers him the chance to "work on mysteries without any clues" (to borrow rocker Bob Seger's famous phrase).  A certifiable whack-job of a woman, Cassius openly compares Joan to the psychopath Jeanne Moreau played in Truffaut's great film JULES ET JIM.  He appears addicted to how she messes with his mind.  Joan is also Trigger #1 for Cassius's developing sex life.

       So the narrative question of the book is, Does Cassius choose attractive, if practical, Shauna, or hold out for Joan: manipulative, emotional roller coaster, drama queen of carnal knowledge?  Well, Clueless Chump Cassius, at book's end, doesn't appear to make a choice. But that's not the whole reason A MOUTH LIKE YOURS was less than satisfying for this reviewer.

       The novel is long on literary virtue--dialogue in particular.  But the overarching design seems to stagger.  Something like the first three-quarters of the book reads like scenes of talking heads, interspersed with bouts of adventurous sex (mercifully, the reader is spared explicit description).  Moreover, the first three-quarters also leaves the impression Cassius Harper spends too much time living in his head, evidenced by accurate, but wearing, Bay Area psychobabble.

       Then, the last fourth of the book reads as if an earlier black-and-white movie has gone to Panavision colors.  Cassius flies east to rejoin Joan, who's moved temporarily to New York City.  The magic of lovers reuniting summons forth exhaustive sensory detail.  Cassius seems jolted out of his headspace long enough to finally reach an epiphany about Joan.  Does she know responsibility?  He leaves her, but on the novel's last page grants himself license to slide back to Joan.

       So A MOUTH LIKE YOURS ends on a strong note of irresolution.  Yes, at times, Cassius has a sardonic take on his lack of commitment to any one woman, or the remoteness of finding the right woman, Shauna notwithstanding.  In some ways, Cassius's lack of success in relationships has to do with living so much in his head and not knowing women as something other than, to use Rilke's phrase, "the difficult sex between us."  It's easy to picture Cassius, given ten years, as resembling some fellows around my hometown Portland reportedly with $10,000+ a year prostitute habits.  Apparently, the first thing they do after they've paid for the service is whip out the laptop and write a review of their latest "experience" to post on  In all things, be consumer-driven.  Lovely.
© Charlie Dickinson March 2006
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