In Dhalgren, perhaps one of the most profound and best-selling science fiction novels of all time, Samuel R. Delany has produced a novel that rivals the best American fiction of the 1970s.
Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there...the population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man - a poet, a lover, and an adventurer - known only as the Kid.
Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and a groundbreaking work of American magical realism.
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Yeasayers say yes. Naysayers say no.
Yes. It is experimental literature that has worn the test of time. If we shall fall for the fallacy of credentialism, Umberto Eco, Theodore Sturgeon, David Bowie, endorse this delicate fragile, imperfect yet bold unabashed and honest work.If it ain't for you then you don't have a place in Bellona.Go somewhere else.As for the rest of us, you are welcome here.Look, you'll know right away if this is not for you. Don't expect anything from Dhalgren. It is more suggestive than expressive. If you expect anything, be prepared for disappointment.However, if you take it as it comes, if you say yes, you are in for a treat. This is something unlike anything that came before it.
Sex with trees, the banality of prose. The beauty of it.
His deep cadence plays well with the essence of this peculiar and noteworth work..
What you see is incomparable to what you think.
This is a landmark work that while imperfect, its contrivances suggests so much it must not be overlooked.All you have to do it let it.
- Michael W
An enduring classic or the Emperor's new clothes?
Dhalgren is one of those books where I was left wondering if it was a “literary marvel and a groundbreaking work of American magical realism.” or a literary version of the emperor’s new clothes. Based on hundreds of glowing reviews and its placement high on most must-read sci-fi lists, there are many who believe this is a classic. One reader in my discussion group said “It's enough to me that odd and interesting events happen, characters have interesting conversations/insights, and there are occasional hot sex scenes.”
I’m not so sure.
Weighing in at over 800 pages, much of what happens takes place in Bellona, a city devastated by some unknown calamity and follows the wanderings, adventures, discussions and passionate encounters of a homeless young man who cannot remember his name and assumes the moniker Kidd, or Kid depending where you are in the book. While Bellona and the people Kidd encounters are interesting, the book is essentially plotless with Delaney teasing readers frequently with inexplicable events and possibly profound insights that flutter just outside of the reader’s understanding.
Written in the mid-1970s , Dhalgren shares the aimlessness and lack of purpose that permeated that decade between the sexual revolution and the AIDS epidemic, when physical passion replaced the passion engendered by a sense of purpose. The conversations about such still-debated topics as race, gender and sexuality may have been groundbreaking and original when written but now seem to be shallow and selfish. Maybe the most profound thing Delaney says is his statement on page 685 that “balling a couple of dozen people in one night is merely a prerequisite for understanding anything worth knowing.”
William Gibson was known to say that Dhalgren is a riddle never meant to be solved. Maybe it is, like Russia, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or maybe, like several of the denizens of Bellona, the Emperor has no clothes. Who’s to say?
- T. J. Mathews