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Dhalgren Paperback – May 15, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

What is Dhalgren? Dhalgren is one of the greatest novels of 20th-century American literature. Dhalgren is one of the all-time bestselling science fiction novels. Dhalgren may be read with equal validity as SF, magic realism, or metafiction. Dhalgren is controversial, challenging, and scandalous. Dhalgren is a brilliant novel about sex, gender, race, class, art, and identity.

A mysterious disaster has stricken the midwestern American city of Bellona, and its aftereffects are disturbing: a city block burns down and is intact a week later; clouds cover the sky for weeks, then part to reveal two moons; a week passes for one person when only a day passes for another. The catastrophe is confined to Bellona, and most of the inhabitants have fled. But others are drawn to the devastated city, among them the Kid, a white/American Indian man who can't remember his own name. The Kid is emblematic of those who live in the new Bellona, who are the young, the poor, the mad, the violent, the outcast--the marginalized.

Dhalgren is many things, but instantly accessible isn't one of them. While most of this big, ambitious, deeply detailed novel is beautifully pellucid, the opening pages will be difficult for some: the novel starts with the second half of an incomplete sentence, in the viewpoint of a man who doesn't know who he is. If you find the early pages rough going, push on; the story soon becomes clear and fascinating. But--fair warning--the central nature of the disaster, of its strange devastations and disruptions, remains a puzzle for many readers, sometimes after several readings.

Spoiler warning: If you want to figure out the secret of the novel as you read Dhalgren, then stop reading this review right now! If you want to know the secret before you start, this is what the novel is about: the experience of existence inside a novel. Time passes differently for different characters. A river changes location. Stairs change their number. The Kid looks in a mirror and sees not himself, but someone who looks an awful lot like Samuel R. Delany. Central images include mirrors, lenses, and prisms, devices that focus, reflect--and distort. The Kid fills a notebook with a journal that may be Dhalgren, and is uncertain if he has written much, or any, of it. The characters don't know they're in a novel, but they know something is wrong. Dhalgren explores the relationship between characters and author (or, perhaps, characters, "author," and author).

The final chapter can be even tougher going than the opening pages, with its viewpoint change and its stretches of braided narrative--and the novel ends with the beginning of an unfinished sentence. But the last chapter becomes clear as you persevere; and when you get to that unfinished closing line, turn to the first line of the novel to finish the sentence and close the narrative circle. --Cynthia Ward

From Library Journal

Vintage launches its new Delany series with this 1974 epic. In coming months the volumes Babel 17/Empire Star, Nova, and an expanded edition of Driftglass will also be reissued. Though pushing 30, Dhalgren features themes of racial identity, religious faith, and self-awareness revealed in a multilayered plot that will be right at home with today's audiences.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (May 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375706682
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375706684
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Samuel R. Delany is the author of numerous science fiction books including, Dhalgren and The Mad Man, as well as the best-selling nonfiction study Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. He lives in New York City and teaches at Temple University. The Lambda Book Report chose Delany as one of the fifty most significant men and women of the past hundred years to change our concept of gayness, and he is a recipient of the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to lesbian and gay literature.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

226 of 246 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
I read this book in three days, found none of the sex gratuitous, never felt lost (though the narrative certainly does fly apart in the last section), and thought the book, if it needed editing, only needed about 75 pages worth, and that's spread out across 800. I seem to be in the minority, and that makes sense--this is not a book for everyone.

But for me, Dhalgren is the best book I've read in months, and I desperately don't want its detractors to scare people like me off. No, fans of early Delany, this is not Babel-17, but I personally think he didn't start getting really good until Nova and his short stories. No, people of delicate sensibilities, this is not a sanitized book, but those who believe it's _just_ about the author's own bisexuality are probably betraying their own sensitivities; frankly, I found issues of race, the concept of identity, the artistic drive, philosophy, the power of myth, semiotics, metafiction, and the overwhelming theme of "What happens when time has no meaning?" to be far more prevalent than the issues of sexuality. There _is_ a lot of sex in certain sections of Dhalgren, but it usually serves as a signpost in a relationship, showing just how two or more people stand at that particular moment. Dhalgren is also not "about nothing," nor is it "disjointed"--there is very clearly a storyline going on, though its initial stated goals lose meaning as certain themes start to take over the universe of the book. It's no A-to-B plot, but it's one seriously good A-through-B-and-around-back-to-A (or IS it?) plot.

So what IS Dhalgren?
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130 of 141 people found the following review helpful By mattyreed on July 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
I just finished Dhalgren a few hours ago and I am still thinking it through, so maybe this review is a bit premature, but here goes:
I'd heard about this book for ages, so I was excited when it got reissued recently. Being a big Pynchon/Joyce fan, I have much patience and love for the so-called Big Difficult Novel. Not being a big SF fan, I was more intrigued by the book's titanic reputation as a surreal masterwork. However, right now I disagree with the notion (from previous reviewers) that this book is an absolute love or an absolute hate, as there is so much in it to recommend, as well as some basic things to criticize. Hence, my three stars.
Well, in so many ways this book is certainly fantastic. It has imagery I've never read anywhere else, and having grown up in a formerly industrial New England city that is only now coming out of it's crumbling, chaotic doldrums, I related to many images of Bellona. Overall, I think the book is a grand project of metafiction, portraiture of mental illness, or some inexplicable religious/apocalyptic mystery. The fact that it works on all those levels makes me admire the novel more. I did not need anything explicitly explained, as I liked feeling the confusion and whirl of ideas that the main character feels. (If you've seen the movie "Memento," the experience is similar.)
What I did not admire was the fact that the book was easily 200 pages too long. For example, I'm hardly squeamish about descriptions of sex, but after dozens and dozens of them...well, like any cheap pornography, it gets kind of numbingly dull--which may be the point, but hey, I got bored.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Robert Dumas on September 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
At last, at long last, I have finished Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, and here are my thoughts, enhanced by some quotes from William Gibson's foreword to the book.
Dhalgren is not a book for everyone; in fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's not for most people. Delany's work is definitely influenced by the fact that he is a gay black man, so if you're expecting normal sexual and emotional relationships, look elsewhere. It's also a dense book, which your average Grisham- or Crichton-reading person is not going to get, or even want to get. It's also long and slower-paced than most books I've read.
That said, it's also one of the most fascinating tales I've read to date. I have sincere worries I'll ever be able to look at, say, a Philip K. Dick book with quite as much reverence again.
It is a labyrinthine book, a sort of wandering narrative that somehow stays carefully focused as the tale weaves continually through its long tale. In his foreword, William Gibson said, "I have never understood it. I have sometimes felt that I partially understood it, or that I was nearing the verge of understanding it. This has never caused me the least discomfort, or interfered in any way with my pleasure in the text. If anything, the opposite has been true."
When I read those words before starting the text, I had my doubts, along with a few lofty - but misplaced - ambitions. How, I wondered, could you not "get" a book, yet still enjoy it? "Maybe I can figure its mystery out," I said to myself. How foolish I was.
In re-reading the foreword after finishing the book, I see now that Gibson was absolutely right. "Dhalgren," he says, "is not there to be finally understood.
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