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American Genius: A Comedy Paperback – October 28, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press; 1 edition (October 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933368446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933368443
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An often dazzling, totally disorienting interior riff, Tillman's fifth novel (after 1995's Haunted Houses) presents an unnamed woman of a certain age, who lingers in a spa (or is it a madhouse?), digressing with authority on loneliness, denim, Eames chairs, the history of silk, the vicissitudes of friendship, Puritanism, the blissfulness of sleep and the pleasures of 100% cotton socks. Dialogue is virtually absent, as is plot; most everything—a painful childhood, beloved pets, a dead father and brother and a troubled mother—is revealed through the woman's first-person recollections and observations. Eventually, it appears the narrator is resident in a New Age, claustrophobia-inducing colony, where she sharply observes her strange fellows and attends absurd guest lectures ("Live Food, Raw Food"). The location and purpose remain ambiguous, as do large chunks of the narrator's personal history, which has left her with an obsession with skin: leg waxing, alopecia, psoriasis, facials (a particular favorite) and scars "whose presence never lets you forget the event, which may have been dramatic or even traumatic." Indeed, her own memories seem to have left her suffering, numb and loquacious. Vividly recorded by the multitalented Tillman (who also writes nonfiction, essays and short stories), this loopy trip through a meandering, fretful mind proves worthwhile. (Oct.)
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...demanding and bewitching, harrowing and bemusing, revelatory and transforming... -- Donna Seaman, Bookforum

[A] circuitous, riveting journey. Tillman is as piquant and provocative as ever. -- Kirkus Reviews

[F]lawed, beautiful, sacred, insane. -- George Saunders

[P]oetic brilliance... -- John Freeman, Entertainment Weekly

More About the Author

Here's an Author's Bio. It could be written differently. I've written many for myself and read lots of other people's. None is right or sufficient, each slants one way or the other. So, a kind of fiction - selection of events and facts.. So let me just say: I wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old. That I actually do write stories and novels and essays, and that they get published, still astonishes me. Right now, I'm working on a novel, my sixth, and also some stories and will be working on an art essay or two soon.

In April, a new collection of stories, Someday This Will Be Funny, will be pubbed by Red Lemonade Press. There is no story called Someday This Will Be Funny in it: it's a title that comments on all the stories, maybe.

Each spring, I teach writing at University at Albany, in the English Dept., and in the fall, at The New School, in the Writing Dept.

I've lived with David Hofstra, a bass player, for many years. It makes a lot of sense to me that I live with a bass player, since time and rhythm are extremely important to my writing. He's also a wonderful man.

As time goes by, my thoughts about writing change, how to write THIS, or why I do. There are no stable answers to a process that changes, and a life that does too. Writing, when I'm inhabiting its world, makes me happy, or less unhappy. I also feel engaged in and caught up in politics here, and in worlds farther away.

When I work inside the world in which I do make choices, I'm completely absorbed in what happens, in what can emerge. Writing is a beautiful, difficult relationship with what you know and don't know, have or haven't experienced, with grammar and syntax, with words, primarily, with ideas, and with everything else that's been written.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on March 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
AMERICAN GENIUS draws you in with the dexterity of Scheherezadem so don't plan on doing a lot of other things because hours will go by, and you'll still be there hanging on every word of the mysterious, yet utterly candid narrator, a woman who seems to be on a permanent vacation from the realities of her ordinary life, so that in a way, this is the updated, and very NY version of M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY. But is it a holiday entirely? Or has, perhaps, our narrator stepped outside the bonds of society and is being incarcerated in this strange place, like THE YELLOW WALLPAPER or THE SNAKE PIT? Women have long written about being clapped into one sort of prison or another, but rarely so enigmatically. I dare you to work it out, indeed part of the miracle of the book is seeing, with such inflected pleasure, just how long Tillman can keep up the balancing act of keeping you guessing. For in other ways the world the narrator finds herself in is like one of those artists' colonies one always hears about, where they bring you lunch to the door of your cottage, then tiptoe away so as not to disturb the "genius" within.

Or it could be any sort of other place of temporary lodging, like the inn in Chaucer. "Flee, flee, this sad hotel," Anne Sexton wrote, but in many ways this place suits our narrator, and the other guests or inmates or whatever they are afford her (and us) endless hours of amusement and speculation, just as they did M. Hulot, or Henry James. "I'm not trapped here," she keeps telling us, or maybe she's trying to reassure herself.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By disco75 on May 19, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although this novel has a very specific plot that may limit its appeal to wide readership, there is no doubt about the quality of its artistry. Tillman has taken a concept and executed it well. What surprises me is that none of the reviewers on this site or on the book jacket recognize its most obvious inspiration: Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. In Tillman's version of the psychosomatic seeking respite (from the world at large and finding a microcosm of carnival-mirror traits in her artists colony) the world is decidedly 21st century. But the reflections of the protagonist are as human, and therefore timeless, as Mann's. She plays with the flow of time the way Mann did, and uses personal ruminations to reflect both the character of the protagonist and the society from which she is temporarily escaping. Tillman uses the dining hall, bedroom, walking excursions, and seance in ways like Mann did, and with a similar type of wry humor. Her ambitions were less for political symbolism than Mann's. She musters a good dose of talent in her writing. Much recommended for serious readers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Carr on November 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
The magician who appears near the end of this novel reminds the other characters that magic is all about misdirection. That describes the novel's technique as well. Our neurotic narrator obsesses over her skin, and sometimes fabric---the surfaces. But then she'll experience sudden eruptions of painful memory or vivid insight, usually tossed off as asides on every topic from art history to childhood pets. Our narrator (Helen, we eventually learn) complains about her sensitive skin, but what we're really exploring here is a sensitive psyche, a brilliant mind almost afraid of thinking. As the book begins, it's unclear whether she's living in some kind of mental institution or an artists' colony. The fact that we can't immediately tell is an example of the sly dry humor present throughout this beautifully written novel.
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