Review: Delany’s Dhalgren

Samuel Delany

When people ask me what my favorite book is, I generally demure. Does anyone have a single favorite? I know I do not.

But as I hem and haw about what it means for a book to be my “favorite” I almost always end up discussing Dhalgren. It isn’t my favorite book, per se, but it is certainly among my favorites.

Why? I’m not entirely sure.

I’m taken by the “plot” such as it is – man walks into post-apocalyptic city in which time is nonlinear and the geography keeps changing. He has weird adventures, meets people living strange lives, has kinky sex, writes obsessively, gets involved in gang wars, and in small town politics gone bizarro.

Besides it’s plot, the book also features unconventional plot structure (are these the same characters as before? Is time moving forward, backward, randomly?), and formal experiments in style, including unconventional punctuation and grammar and parallel texts on the novels last 100 pages.

It’s a hell of a ride. And all of this may make it seem that Dhalgren is tough sledding, but it’s not. At least it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t put it down. If you’re willing to go along with the flow of the work, take in and appreciate its eccentricities while forgiving its flaws*, it can be a hallucinatory ride.*

I’ve maintained for years that when we look back at the height of post-modernist fiction of the 1970s and 80s, Dahlgren will be viewed as a masterwork of postmodern fiction. Read it and see if you agree.

This is my favorite cover of Dhalgren.

*Its too long. The writing can be uneven — some sections are stunning, others feel overwrought.

**Indeed, I have a friend who claimed whenever he looked up from the book he felt “funny”.


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  1. Review: Delany’s Straits of Messina | Milo and the Calf

    […] at times, especially when he is writing about my favorite, Dhalgren, I get the sense that Delany is either being coy about what he was up to, or he himself may not […]

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