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Tlooth (American Literature Series) Paperback – October 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


"A brilliant book, in a very special way... While the method of telling it is quite sober, and the language plain, what actually happens is bizarre and wonderful. The descriptions that are blandly handed to you show an imagination and an ingenuity that are often just as astonishing. The details are sometimes savage and scabrous.... But the book has nothing to do with modish sick humor.... It is, for all its incidental excesses, fantasy, pure and simple.... If you can take it, this is a journey worth taking." -- Harper's

"[Tlooth and Conversions are] comic extravaganzas that play mockingly with every device of fiction." -- Washington Post Book World

"An imaginative free-form exercise in the best advanced style, one carefully planned with conventions of plot meticulously disregarded... with an emphasis on bizarre subject matter paramount.... Here in brief is a literary "happening" not without some interest for its motivations in technique in a world evidently prepared to abandon the old and tried for the new and quite experimental, at least in prose fiction." -- Virginia Quarterly Review

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Part 1-A Disappointing Inning: Mannish Madame Nevtaya slowly cried "Fur bowls!" and the Fideist batter, alert to the sense behind the sound of her words, jogged toward first base. The wind from the northern steppe blew coldly on the close of our season.

The Fideist division received the camp's worst villains, and its team assembled their dregs. Among us Defective Baptists a love of baseball signified gentleness; among Fideists, cruelty. Consider their bloodthirsty team--

Left field: undertaker's assistant and caterer to necrophiles, Sydney Valsalva kidnaped infants for beheading.

Center field: Lynn Petomi, dentist, mutilated the mouths of patients.

Pitcher: Hilary Cheyne-Stokes, gynecologist, committed analagous crimes.

1st base: Tommy Withering, osteopath, flayed a younger brother.

Shortstop: Evelyn Roak, surgeon, supplied human fragments to a delicatessen and was arrested for scandalous amputations.*

(2nd base: Cecil Meli, nurse, had been jailed by mistake.)

Right field: Lee Donders, grocer, transformed Roak's material into "Donders' Delicacies."

Catcher: Marion Gullstrand, obstetrician, tortured unwed mothers.

3rd base: Leslie Auenbrugger, psychiatrist--the "Restroom Bomber."

Valsalva had walked. Since I was catcher, I went out to the mound to say a few words of encouragement. The second batter grounded to shortstop, forcing Valsalva; the third struck out; and the Fideists' turn at bat would have ended with Withering's high foul if, failing to allow for the wind, I had not misjudged it. Withering singled on the next pitch.

I was thus obliged to execute my plan in the first inning of the game. Having foreseen the possibility, I drew a prepared ball from my chest protector to substitute it for the one in play.

I had made the ball myself. It was built around two unusual parts--a tiny battery and a pellet of dynamite. From each of the battery's outlets, a wire extended through the hair stuffing of the ball about halfway to the leather wrapper. The free ends of the wires, one of which passed through a firing cap fixed to the dynamite, were six millimeters apart, enough to prevent their junction at a mild impact but not at a sufficiently hard one. The difference, which I had determined exactly, was that between a fast pitch caught and a slow pitch hit. The wire ends separated into meshing sprays of filament, so that no matter how the ball was struck, it was certain to explode.

To shield myself, I had reinforced my equipment with layers of nylon in the chest protector, steel in the cap and shin guards, and a lucite screen in the mask.

For the umpire's protection I counted on her thick skin.

I expected the explosion to create general confusion, stun and knock down the batter, and explain the batter's death. The bomb itself would kill no one, but I had concealed in my right shin guard, ready to use as soon as the ball had been detonated, a hypodermic of botulin.

Evelyn Roak stood at the plate. To my dismay, the first three pitches were low--the pitcher later complained that the ball was heavy. The fourth was a perfect strike, and my hopes revived. At the next delivery the batter drew back to swing, but the pitch was wild. The ball sailed past my outstretched glove as I lunged at it, skittered over the ground behind home plate, off the playing field altogether, at last disappearing irretrievably, and with an abysmal liquid reverberation, into a drain. *For example, removing, together with a troublesome spur of bone, the index and ring fingers of my left hand. I was then a violinist.


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Product Details

  • Series: American Literature Series
  • Paperback: 177 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564781941
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564781949
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Matthew L. Moffett on January 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Wow! This is the first book in a long while that I sat down and read straight through in one sitting, and then read it again the next day. This book is layered and layered again, twisting through puzzles, puns and wordgames that revolve back into itself. It's wildly imaginative in its style and content, and the over the top humor would suit fans of Pynchon and Barthelme, but his control of the language and playfulness is even more extreme once you allow yourself to dig in. This is not a quick read for the subway, but a novel that will challenge your expectations and ideas on what a piece of fiction should and should not be.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By B. Drake on June 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
The imagination runs wild in this book -- rather like a chariot with a wheel slipping from its axis. A maddening read -- I couldn't finish this book in one sitting , as someone commented above. One chapter a night was all I could handle, and with the plot and locales veering all over the map, I had a hard time remembering what I had read the night before. And yet, I knew that I absolutely HAD to finish Tlooth, and when I did, I was glad; the end reveals what this book is about (and it is about something after all). Erudite, staggeringly digressive, subversive, dreamlike, pansexual: TLOOTH gives mainstream fiction a rousing slap on the behind. (Expand that metaphor into something more knuckle-y, and you'll get the gist of what I really mean.) It's not a book in the usual sense of the world. It's a disorientation. Either you are up to it, or you aren't. NOT an Oprah Book Club selection (thank God)!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
This, Harry Mathews' second novel, has been out of print for far too long. Translated by Georges Perec as Les verts champs de moutarde de l'Afghanistan, Tlooth is, like Gray's Lanark, a novel of incredbile and impossible occurences told in a deadpan manner. Set in a Russian prison camp, this novel begins at a baseball game featuring the Defective Baptists versus the Fideists... and it gets progressively stranger and more interesting from there.
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