Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book.

 

I'm quite sure, though, that it could have benefited from an editor. Even considering purposefully distorted narrative and intentional errors in first-person, there is still too much. The amount of typos due to author self-editing a huge amount of text over a short time before submitting it to the publisher is infamous. Not just the typos - the writing is just plain awkward at places and even the structure could have used some tightening. (Again, even taking the purposefully unortodox into the consideration.)

 

It's technically SF, but not much more so than, say, A Brave New World. There is a post-apocalyptic feel, but not quite - or perhaps, more realistically than in most post-apocalyptic novels. People are still clinging to the old order, even as new moons are rising and Sun seems to be getting too close and dates on the newspaper jump decades from day to day. Dubiousness about SF part increases

as we learn that our protagonist is very likely insane, with some examples of his perception being different from the others sneaking in from very early on.

(show spoiler)

In the end, it's ambiguous if it's all a dream, hallucination or genuine time-space distortion. Furthermore, it steps away from the genre also because it doesn't discuss science or even focus much on the speculation about developments in such an environment. Rather, Delany uses the setting as a soapbox and characters as mouthpieces to speak about issues from female sexuality (surprisingly well) over rape (somewhat dubious, but uses several different perspectives) to creative processes of the artists (probably the most explored of themes). It's hanging somewhere halfway between genre and literary fiction. Which is not a bad thing, just a bit unexpected.

 

 

 

Dhalgren also features a great example of a triangular relationship - "menage a trois" does not quite fit it, nor does your average "love triangle" where one ends being the odd one out. The power balance is fascinating; even as one character seems to be the main focus, the other two have their subtle ways of establishing independence and having their own moments. I, personally, don't think I could maintain such a relationship, but I believe they can work with certain mixes of personalities and I completely buy the one presented here. A lot of it seems to be about sex but there is a definite deeper connection; they genuinely need each other and they wouldn't work quite well if left in any combination of two.

 

Don't read if:

-you're looking for an easy read

-you're looking for classical SF

-you're squeamish about gore, various bodily fluids, derogatory terms and bad language in general, adults with minors and/or dirty sex (not as "kinky" dirty, just no cosmetic touches your average pornography would have)

-you have triggers of any just about any sort

-you dislike polyamory and open relationships

-you need a conventional narrative

 

Read if:

-you feel like getting a mindfuck

-you want to try something completely different

-you want to read a book with a bi character

-you want to read a book that discusses issues such as race (Native American included), female sexuality and perception thereof and homosexuality beyond "getting out of the closet" with respect yet without preaching and in a frank and refreshing manner-you want to read about life on streets without glorification of crime, drugs and prostitution-you don't mind a lack of coherent plot and payoff

 

Additional Note: Due to the unconventional format, I decided to check my book against a sample on Amazon when I just started to see if there is an error. When I looked at Japanese translation sample, it somehow sounded better than my English original. I'm not a linguist, but sentence fragments like the one at the beginning actually sound more at place to me in a Japanese text. Granted, this could be due to a large part of my Japanese reading being manga, where such fragments happen often. But phrases like "She blinked surprised brown eyes at him, from a face that could have been angry" actually sound like something one might read in a book in Japanese. In English, it makes me want a red pen, even though it's probably some kind of aritstic statement. In short, a reread is in order, preferably as a physical copy (I read the ebook this time) of Japanese translation and perhaps even English paperback side-by-side.