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Just Finished (For the third time) - 'Mirror Dance' by Lois McMaster Bujold

Sunday, February 24, 2013

1976 Nebula Award Nominee- 'Dhalgren' by Samuel R. Delany

I have no idea how to start a review of Delany's 'Dhalgren.'  It's a difficult work, and inspires a strong reaction from almost everyone who reads it.  There's plenty of Amazon reviews for people who didn't like the novel.  Here's a Goodread's review by a man who thinks 'smart' people like it and 'dumb' people don't.  The Millions describes it as a 'Difficult Book' along the lines of Joyce's 'Ulysses' or Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying.'  Plenty of people have things to say about 'Dhalgren,' and almost none of it actually informs us of anything about the novel.  And this review won't either.  If someone came here looking for an explanation of the novel they're not going to get it from me, and I don't believe they're going to find it anywhere else either.

I bought 'Dhalgren' on a whim, knowing nothing about it, without having read any Delany before.  I actually made it several hundred pages into the novel before realizing I was out of my depth.  I was able to recognize that there was a lot of symbolism in what I was reading, and that some of it even read like recurring themes from the author, but I couldn't attach any meaning to what I was reading about.  I set the book down and went back for more Delany.  'Dhalgren' sat on my shelf for several years while I finished 'Triton,' 'Nova,' 'The Ballad of Beta-2,' 'The Einstein Intersection,' and most of the rest of Delany's work, including 'The Jewel-Hinged Jaw,' and some of his other literary criticism.  Sort of a Delany primer so I could get familiar with the writer and his style.  And I have to say it helped.  There are a lot of recurring images in Delany's writing, the young character with one bare foot, and large overly masculine hands on an otherwise normal character both show up in several of his works.

Armed with this knowledge and a better understanding of Delany's style I went back at 'Dhalgren,' and failed.  So I tried again, and failed.  And after several more attempts at finishing it off I finally got myself in the right mindset and polished it off.  When people say that it's a difficult book they're not fooling around, both the subject matter and the writing style make this novel difficult to grab hold of.  Delany plays pretty loose with the time structure in the novel, the protagonist has blank spots in his memory early in the novel that seem to be filled in further on, though there's no indication if it actually was chronologically later. 

The edition of the novel I read had a forward written by William Gibson and I think his assessment is the best.  This novel is a question without an answer, a riddle that wasn't meant to be solved.  The novel is open-ended, and open for interpretation.  Whatever story you're looking to find inside of 'Dhalgren' is there, but if you're looking for help from the author in what to see you're not going to find it.

I have to say that I really did enjoy the novel.  I don't have any insight to offer as far as interpretation.  I think each person just has to read 'Dhalgren' for them self, find their own meaning in it.  I will say that it helps to be in the right mindset when you open the book, and this is one of those novels that almost needs to be read at a specific point in one's life.  I think I would have enjoyed this book more had I read it when I was in a more tumultuous period of my life, but as it was I did enjoy it.  I've got my own theories about some of the things that occurred in the book, and what the ending means, and I've got my own questions about the book that I'd really like someone to answer for me.  I've seriously thought about checking some college libraries to see if anyone had written their thesis on this book.  I still don't know if I'll do it.

One thing I can say about the book is it really is timeless.  This novel could have been written a year ago and it would read just the same.  Knowing it was written in the seventies might inform our opinion of the novel somewhat, but it's not as important as some other books.  It's rare to find an SF novel (if this can be called SF) from the seventies that doesn't date itself, but Delany managed to write something with equal appeal now as then.  Also, as difficult as this book is to wrap your head around you need to remember that it was a best seller, selling over a million copies when it was published.

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