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A Gay and Melancholy Sound (Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries) Paperback – April 3, 2012

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"One of my all-time favorite novels...Merle Miller has written what I think is probably the purest example of the novel as autobiography that I’ve ever read. I found unforgettable his stark and stunning portrait of an Iowa-born former child prodigy whose inability to love stems from a lacerating self-hatred. Throughout his life Joshua Bland has systematically destroyed whatever happiness could be his, knowing exactly what he was doing as he did it, but unable to stop himself. His behavior, which will perhaps be inexplicable to some readers, seemed all too understandable to me... A Gay and Melancholy Sound is certainly grounded in the great historical events of the mid-twentieth century – the Second World War and McCarthyism, to take two notable examples. Yet, Miller’s novel never feels dated or awkward: there’s no strong whiff of the long-dead past emanating from its pages. Indeed, there’s enough snark, emotional pain, and irony to satisfy even the most demanding twenty-first century reader."
-- Nancy Pearl, author of the Book Lust series.


"One of the two or three really important books to come along in this country since the war.  I cannot remember having read a novel that disturbed and moved me as deeply as this one has done.  Nor have I read one in which the ideas and technical execution have been so perfectly matched.  It is one of the rare truthful books, painfully and blindingly so.  He has caught at least one of the deepest truths about our times:  perhaps (I hope) not the only truth there is, but certainly one of the most important.  It is not only his best book:  that goes without saying.  It is one of the best books." 
-- Paxton Davis, author of Being a Boy


"It's Merle Miller's best book—and engrossing nightmare.  He has always been eloquent and clever.  But in this story he is passionate too.  His idea for a victim-hero is a knockout, the best protagonist for the kind of indictment of American life he makes that I've encountered."
–- Ira Wolfert, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Tucker"s People



From Kirkus Reviews

In his most ambitious book (others: That Winter, Reunion, A Secret Understanding) and possibly longest, Merle Miller has taken a stencil of modern American life and has omitted few of its smudges. His hero, or (as he calls himself) anti-hero, Joshua Bland, former child prodigy, "again Quiz Kid," World War II hero, theatrical producer, at 37 [is] in utter despair ... He records on tape the story of his life, and the novel is told largely in flashback. Bland's life (the significance of the name is obvious) consists of a series of disorders -- personal and sociological, and his record contains more villains than heroes. Villains: not surprisingly, his mother, an "artsy-craftsy," culture hound who was determined that her child would be a genius; her second husband, Petrarch Pavan, a characterless fraud, whom Josh most clearly resembled; his first wife Letty, a dedicated social climber who made a monster of their daughter; and a number of other general types, epitomizing moral vacuity among the more publicized and commercial aspects of American life -- in Hollywood, Washington and New York. Bland is, of course, sensitive and intelligent enough to be able to tell the good guys from the bad; his tragedy (the publisher's word) is that he is unable to properly respond to the best influences in his life and seems, in fact, compelled to destroy those people who revealed their weakness by loving him. Now [he has] alienated the last person who might have helped him -- his second wife.... Bland's problem is an increasingly familiar one in American fiction -- the inability to "love." The difficulty is that the word is used as if its mere statement were sufficient to establish the worth of the character. Merle Miller's "anti-hero," beginning as a freak, never had a chance. But apart from essentials there is no question that the book is clever, witty, and intelligent and that Merle Miller has accurately identified the American infirmities.
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Product Details

  • Series: Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries
  • Paperback: 584 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonEncore (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612182976
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612182971
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,077,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on May 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I do not agree with Nancy Pearl (understatement). I think she is completely wrong-headed in her reasons for disinterring this book from its well-deserved out-of-print status, and my prediction is that will once again achieve such status, never, one can only hope, to be resuscitated evermore.

The adjectives I think best-employed to describe the soul-sapping trudge through a life, and death, that constitutes this book are dispiriting and boring. It is the only novel I have ever read where the parts I underlined were, almost to a one, quotes from other authors that the now clapped-out former child prodigy narrator, Joshua Bland, dictates into his reel-to-reel tape recorder in the drug-hazed narration of his life.

Ms. Perle lauds the book for its "snark." And if it's snark upon snark for which a prospective reader hunts, s/he will find the creature here, in abundance. But a novel cannot subsist, as this one, for the most part, tries to do, on snark alone.

Ms. Perle also states that there are those poor readers who will simply not understand our narrator's self-loathing and self-destructive behaviour. Not a bit of it! The problem with the book or, I should say, another problem with it, is that it is TOO understandable. Man/woman is born. S/he suffers. S/he dies. Do we really need 500+ pages of narration to elaborate upon this fact without nuance, without poetry, without subtlety, but with ironic snark alone?

The only book which comes to mind with which to compare this one is the even longer, even more snarky Laura Warholic by Alexander Theroux, in which even more authors are quoted, even more erudition on display and even more unleavened venom against the human condition forced into the reader's veins.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Myharpo on June 12, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was suggested in the kindle newsletter as something life changing. I stayed with it to the end though many times i felt melancholy! It just didnt rate in my opinion. It was torture trying to get through it and i kept hoping for something to turn around. I wanted insight to his world and what made him the way he was, but i just never bonded with the character.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Lillian Dabney on May 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
Joshua Bland, former prodigy, whiz kid, WWII hero and theatrical producer has endured a variety of emotional traumas from early childhood onward. At 37, in despair he relates his story, told largely in a series of flashbacks that he is recording on tape.

The people that populate Joshua Bland's life are challenging and often devoid of moral character. Joshua understands this and is still able to recognize sheer goodness. But the irreparable emotional damage he has suffered renders him incapable of returning that goodness in any form. His response is in fact, to destroy those who love him.

One suspects there is a lot of Merle Miller in Joshua Bland as well as a bit of us as readers. What prevents this novel from being unbearably sad is his sardonic wit, his intelligent perceptions of human nature, his dark humour and eloquent prose.

A Gay and Melancholy Sound is a bit disturbing, yet remarkably truthful and authentic. The novel is astonishingly timeless. While Joshua seeks to make sense of his life we find we want to make sense of parts of our own.

We should be very grateful to Nancy Pearl for returning this wonderful novel to print.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By April Martin on May 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joshua Bland cannot love. Joshua Bland is unlovable. Through crippling self-hatred, an overcompensated inferiority complex, a genius-level IQ, and a remarkable knack for self-sabotage, Joshua Bland managed to completely ruin any chance at happiness he could've had. What's more, he knew he was doing it. So now he's decided to create a voice-recorded chronicle of his life complete with his few triumphs and many failures. The resulting account shows the complexity of a life burdened by expectation and disappointment. And yet, it is also quite witty, insightful, and thoroughly engaging.

This fiction by Merle Miller is believed to be more autobiographical than the author would ever admit. Originally published in 1961, it is impressively timeless and never felt dated or cliché in any way. It's a keeper! I'll definitely read it again.

As the first Book Lust Rediscovery, A Gay and Melancholy Sound is a promising start for this series of rereleases from Nancy Pearl. I look forward to the next resurrection from the out-of-print pit.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Shane Casebeer on May 29, 2012
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In a certain sense, this book is the equivalent of listening to a sad song that brings great joy nonetheless - in my case that would be listening to a Janis Joplin tune such as "Ball and Chain." Miller is one of those artists who mines unimaginable pain and sadness and hones it into something idiosyncratically and strangely beautiful.

I did not expect to like this book - I am one of those unfortunate creatures who judges books by their titles, and this one sounded a bit too 'flowery' and 'Hallmarky'; thus, I was (happily) surprised and bowled over to discover that this book was the opposite of what it sounded like based on the title. I was immediately struck by the remarkably truthful aspects of the narrator; Joshua Bland is, to paraphrase and rephrase a well-known phrase: a stranger in a strange land that he didn't make, but is trying to understand. This book is riveting throughout, and the last few pages are shattering - I feel that I need to reread the last part, because it requires serious attention and contemplation.

This book reminded me of John Irving's sprawling novels, specifically "A Prayer for Owen Meany." I was also reminded of another author, Christopher Isherwood, who's book "A Single Man" was published around the same time.

At any rate, "A Gay and Melancholy Sound" is one of those books that was a gripping reading experience, and I am planning on rereading this book in the near future, and I am excited to read more of Mr. Miller's works, because I have not been as excited about a book probably since I was very young and discovered "Escape to Witch Mountain" - which is, of course, an entirely different kind of book and different sort of reading experience.
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