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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
You'll either love or hate Delany's postmodernist style, but I really loved this book. I've never read anything like it, and once I put it down, I wanted to pick it up and read it... Read morePublished 3 days ago by Rochelle
Not my cup of tea, had to stop. To much gross sexual exploration. I guess I should have figured that from the time frame it was written.Published 1 month ago by natedog
I first read this astonishing work when I was 15 - far too early to best comprehend what Delany was doing. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Somnambulist
Where to begin? For 200 pages, DHALGREN is just about the best dystopian novel I've ever read. It's beautiful, enlightening and the underlying mystery is pressing down the back of... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Jean-Benoit Lelievre
It may be said that the novel that most reflects what Samuel R. Delany preaches in his 2005 compilation About Writing is his 1974 tour-de-force Dhalgren. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Peter G. Pollak
I like the edginess of Samual Delany's writing but I'm finding this book hard to get in to. I'm wondering if I should try a later writing.Published 3 months ago by Book Worm
...but when I read fiction I look for at least one character whom I like, or at least whose fate I care about to some degree. I could not find one in Dhalgren. Read morePublished 3 months ago by M. Supina
This book is somewhat of an enigma. The best comparison I can think of is that reading this is like looking at a piece of modern art. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Ionia Martin
That's what I imagined would be the first phrase I uttered to the authors if I ever might meet them. Then, I would turn around and walk away without another word. Read morePublished 5 months ago by DanGuy48