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Alnilam Hardcover – May 5, 1987

2.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dickey's second novel, 17 years after the great success of Deliverance, is by no means such a clear winner. It is a massive, ambitious, flawed book with many passages of breathtaking grandeur in both the conception and the writing, but with a puzzling hollowness at its center and moments of of melodrama that seem to have been created with an action movie in mind. The story is slight for a book of these imposing dimensions, and is clearly only an excuse for Dickey to work out a series of often profound, sometimes merely glib ruminations on the mysteries of flight, the nature of war, male bonding, the mystique of leadership and, above all, the starkly contrasting worlds of vision and blindness. Frank Cahill, the rather hazily conceived protagonist, is a newly blind man who journeys with his faithful but ferocious dog Zack to a WW II Air Corps training base in North Carolina where his son Joel has just been reported killed in an accident. He has never seen Joel, having separated from his mother before his birth, but as he goes around the base talking to officers and his son's fellow cadets, a strange picture begins to emerge: of a brilliant, charismatic student who has amassed a cult following called Alnilam (named after a key star in celestial navigation). Alnilam, a group difficult to take seriously, offers him dark hints about Joel's death, and has this scheme . . . . But plot, as noted, is not the novel's strong point. Dickey always writes like the poet he is, and his evocations of the blind man's world of breath, air, sound and movement, of the mysteries of flight, of somber winter landscapes, are hallucinatory in their power. (One experiment, howeverthe running of Cahill's sensations and the visible world in parallel columns on the page at certain momentsis merely awkward.) The characters, except for the base commander, are seldom very convincing, but their talk is a haunting blend of eloquence and rough country speech. There are two harrowingly violent climaxes and a real Hollywood close. Alnilam is by no means an easy read, but for those who persevere there are the very real rewards of a vastly talented author extending himself and creating a world few writers could even imagine.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 682 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (May 5, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385065493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385065498
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 2.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,827,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By RL on January 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm aware that "Alnilam" didn't fare well on the popular market, and that three previous ..... reviewers have given this Dickey novel low ratings. But this novel engrossed me, and it has stayed with me for fourteen years now.
An English professor of mine used the metaphor of a pebble in a pond to illustrate how interpreting the "meaning" of a fine literary work is essentially a subjective matter. The author drops a pebble into the center of a pond, as it were, and the ripples which it produces, which radiate out to the edges of the pond, are the meanings which we readers ascribe to his creation. (This was some years before Barthes' "The Death of the Author.")
Thus with "Alnilam," I believe. Dickey's powerful prose and deep symbolisms allow a vast range of responses and interpretations. Mine include a lot of religious themes, although I'm aware that Dickey was a bomber pilot in WWII and thus the aviation references, not only explicit but implicit, may be more concretely referential than I've chosen to interpret them. I'm not particularly religious, but I don't know whether the spiritual metaphors I find in "Alnilam" are my own particular "ripple in the pond" or anything Dickey intended when he dropped his "pebble."
At any rate, this reader found "Alnilam" not only brilliantly written but profoundly moving. I'd give it five stars but for the fact that I can't claim to fully understand this novel on an intellectual or objective level, despite enjoying it and being deeply moved by it. But is intellectual grasp a necessary criterion of good literature? Particularly of the work of a brilliant poet? Being uncertain, I give it four stars.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone expecting another book like Deliverance will be vastly disappointed. I struggled with this book at first yet I found it had many rewards not offered up by the usual "top ten" hits list of today's pop pulp market. While Dickey fails where someone like Umberto Eco might succeed it is worthwhile to hitch a ride on Dickey's powerful imagination and tough muscular illusory prose. You almost believe a blind man can fly! I'm a sucker for Dickey so became immersed in this book and liked it better than the White Sea which came later and which I found a good cure for insomnia. While Alnilam did not initially "knock me out", I find it staying with me all these years later.
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Format: Hardcover
As a James Dickey fan, I was looking forward to immersing myself in Alnilam. The start was slow but optimistically I looked forward to something satisfying - I slogged through this disappointment until the bitter end. The one star I gave it (my first inclination was no stars for the pitiful plot and tedious narrative but that was not an option...) was only for some of the character development which was interesting at times. What a waste of a tree (well, with 768 pages, many trees).
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