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A young boy named Adkin narrates The Joy of Edge Tools. In the opening paragraph, Adkin’s mother uses sundry tools and ingredients to birth from his right shoulder brother Misha, a happy-go-lucky monster whose head tapers off into a fatty, fishlike tail. Adkin conceives a vast hatred for this sireniform neonate, but his ineptitude conspires with Misha’s sharp teeth to doom his murderous schemes.
Their mother sends Adkin on an errand to the root cellar, where he pockets a small silver case of frayer without knowing what it is. On his return, she grafts Misha back onto his shoulder. During this operation, Adkin experiences the aesthetic as the book’s first dream, an extended metaphor for and counterpoint to his movement toward his brother, with their actual meeting a sort of catechistic amniotic communion. Coming to again, Adkin inadvertently loses his right thumb to Misha’s teeth, and their mother installs a boxhook in its stead.
The two brothers now comprise a small society at war with itself, their two heads fighting for control of their single body. After a minor operation, which lets Adkin understand his brother’s curious mode of vocalization, and a storytelling game, Adkin resumes his attempts on Misha’s life; each time, by failing to understand the shared corporeal nature of their existence, he injures himself at least as much as he does his brother. Meanwhile, he slowly loses command of the right side to Misha. Since the boys are unable to coordinate their movements, they must now move about in a Bath chair.
Their mother then introduces them to the log and explains its use in the inscription and reading of dreams. The actual manufacture of dreams is illustrated by a tour of the root cellar. Here the mother mentions something that’s only been hinted at before—the existence and disappearance of the boys’ father. The lesson concludes with the concoction of a simple dream, in black and white. With the addition of some stain and delay, they are also able to see how one enters and leaves a dream: a red rope swings you over the abyss to the other side.
What would happen if you were to release the rope on the way to dream? Would you become instantly extinct? fall into a new fleshly shell? survive in suspended unknowing? Their mother cannot say. In any case, it is how, she thinks, their father decamped.
Their shared interest in dreaming only halts the boys’ warfare briefly. Frustrated, and hoping that some temporary experience of unity will pacify them and permit later collaboration, their mother gives them some yoke, which merges their consciousnesses and limits their body to symmetric movements. Their first united desire is to hear more about their father. So their mother channels him, and he relates a convolved and scarcely credible tale of how he obtained his third eye. The boys grow quickly impatient with his divagations and rouse their mother from her trance.