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Reviews of Dhalgren (1974)

Review by clong (2006-06-25)
I wanted to like this book, but in the end I came away from Dhalgren somewhat disappointed. Donít get me wrong, there are a few stunningly imaginative moments in the book (the sun scene, many of the scenes with George, the mirror in the department store scene and subsequent discovery of a journal passage that eerily presaged it, the elevator shaft scene, many of the discussions of poetry, come to mind). But they are few and far between in a book that seemed to drag on forever at almost 900 pages. And Delany has certainly created an impressively large cast of strange characters, most of whom become at least somewhat sympathetic as the book progresses.

What is Dhalgren about? Well on one level, it is about the really strange things that happen to an extremely strange guy when he visits an extraordinarily strange place. On another level it is about the urban idle young, slackers who see life as nothing more than sex, drugs, and hanging out (every generation has a group like that, right?). On still another level it is about the act of authoring; our protagonist The Kid, who canít remember his real name, writes poetry and keeps a journal about his adventures in the mysteriously devastated city of Bellona, which journal we are to understand was later edited, at times with transparent clumsiness, into the book that became Dhalgren.

The book includes lots of sex and occasional moments of violence. I doubt that there is such a thing as a script for a no-holds barred XXX video (what would be the point?), but if such a thing existed, much of Dhalgren would be indistinguishable from it. Sex of just about any imaginable variety is described in substantial detail. Much of it will make most readers squeamish, and some of it would likely get you arrested (in most places, anyway). Perhaps Delany is trying to shock his reader? Eventually it reached a point where I found it mind-numbing and pointless.

There are times when the writing is deliberately self conscious, such as when scenes seamlessly move from third person to first person and back, or when blocks of texts recounting complementary or simply contemporaneous events are given side by side within a single page.

I find Delany to be a really interesting writer, and I am glad that I read Dhalgren, but I canít agree with those who consider it one of the great science fiction novels.

Review by sTalking_Goat (2003-03-11)
I probably shouldn't even be talking about Dhalgren. Its a book I've started but never finished over 5 times in the past 3 years. Dhalgren truly defies definition. What the hell is Dhalgren about? I still don't know. There are parts where I get the feeling that this is some big practical joke, like Joyce (Ulysses HAS to be a practical joke, I don't care what my English teachers say). I can tell you its a book that starts in the middle of a sentence. That alone should tell how truly strange this entire thing is.What I have read of it leads me to believe it is actually good. No one can deny that Delaney knows what he's doing...the man can write. I just he'd let me know what he's doing. One day though I'll finish this book, mostly so I can look English teachers in the eye and say "Hey, you ever read Dhalgren? What was that about."

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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