From Publishers Weekly
Pushing the boundaries of narrative and form, two-time PEN/Faulkner Award–winner Wideman (Hoop Roots
, etc.) delivers a sometimes electric and sometimes confounding collection of 10 short stories. In the best of these, such as the heartfelt "Are Dreams Faster Than the Speed of Light," about a dying man, and the racially charged "Fanon," Wideman wields his stream-of-consciousness prose to great effect. Often, however, the clever allusions and deft turns of phrase rise one after the other in an almost Sisyphean struggle toward perfection. For instance, in "What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence," a full page and a half is devoted to describing a coyote "camouflaged by hovering darkness, by mottled fur, a shadow itself, instantly freezing, sniffing the air" as it roams outside a prison. The language is beautiful, but the detour is so long it stops the story dead. The most frustrating example of this calculated experimentation is "The Silence of Thelonious Monk," which starts with a pistol fight between Verlaine and Rimbaud, shifts into the opening lines of a love story and then heads off into an imagined biography of Monk himself. All of which Wideman pulls off with undeniable virtuosity, but it's precisely this sort of narrative acrobatics that too often robs his stories of their power. The full range of Wideman's talents are on display here, however, and even those stories that don't quite live up to expectations are punctuated by moments of brilliance. (Feb. 9)
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Nearly every review of God’s Gym
draws the parallel between jazz and Wideman’s writing. Just as our American music encompasses melody and dissonance, ballads and funk, so there are dualities aplenty at work here. Wideman continues to disdain the border between fiction and reality as he draws from well-known biographical facts for his stories. Characters commit violent acts, but only in their imaginations. His imposition as a narrator annoys some critics, yet none can claim that Wideman, the only two-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner award, isn’t in complete control of his skills. And while he doesn’t shy away from being a “difficult” writer, he gilds his challenges with resonant emotional truths.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.