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Dead Languages (Graywolf Rediscovery) Paperback – May 1, 1998

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The story of a boy who stutters, at war with, yet entranced by, language, Shields's ( Heroes ) second novel is a bitingly funny cry from the heart and a mordant paean to the power of words. "Sometimes my childhood seems . . . an endless series of . . . overwrought attempts to get beyond a voice that bothered me," reflects Jeremy Zorn, victim of a speech defect that becomes his life's animating principle. Snared by sibilants, reduced to social helplessness, like a modern-day Demosthenes he resolves to use language to "rearrange the world." His handicap comes to seem emblematic of obstacles to communication in general, and helpful in dramatizing them: "I thought it was my duty to insert into every conversation the image of its own absurdity," Jeremy contends, and his coming-of-age requires a comprehensive survey of the available means of verbal rebellion. They include ghetto slang; sign language; singing in the school chorus; debating; and Latin (which "existed only on the page. . . . was always silent"). However, Jeremy's fitting, final choice of existential weapon is fiction. Shields flexes substantial intellectual muscle, yet powerfully sympathetic portraits of Jeremy, his family and their friends also account for the novel's vitality; all and sundry invite effervescently sarcastic comment from the stutterer. The frustration bred by his "neurasthenic self-consciousness" commands Jeremy to let off steam of a high order of hilarity, while driving him to search for his place in the world with uncommon, compelling ferocity.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In a novel originally published in 1989, Jeremy Zorn has words thrust upon him by his family almost from the moment of his birth. As he grows, a stutter prevents him from correctly pronouncing any of them. His impediment, however, is a metaphor for emotions he is unable to verbalize.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Graywolf Rediscovery
  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555972748
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555972745
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,450,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
I bought this for cheap when on holiday in Florida - I know it's silly but I liked the cover. Thankfully, the contents also made my hair stand on end...I have never read a more realistic tale of human emotion and communication. I read it years ago, but I can still remember the sadness and lonliness of characters whose intelligence was little compensation for their sheer inabilty to convey their emotions, through the fear of appearing weak. It left me with a cold chill that will linger for my lifetime - or at least until I learn not to fear rejection.
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By A Customer on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
For anyone who has experienced frustration in the area of communication, this book makes you feel as though you are not alone. It is written in a manner that makes it seem as though the main character, Jeremy, is talking to you. You feel as though you are allowed into his private world; A world which has been profoundly shaped by his feelings of inadequacy surrounding verbal communication. There are funny moments. Moving moments. It's a great read.
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Format: Paperback
David Shields' novel explores the meaning of language and its strong influence on the main character of the story, Jeremy Zorn. Vividly described scenes of Jeremy's childhood guide the reader through his struggle with language, both in his stuttering and in his writing. Jeremy desires to subdue words, to communicate through a form at times most elusive. In contrast, his mother tames words and people at will. It is this contrast that Jeremy seeks to overcome. Jeremy discovers that stuttering is not simply a lapse of language, but also an effect of his acute awareness of the words he attempts to utter. His speech therapist tells him: "If you're ever going to gain complete control of your communicative skills, you have to pay attention to each successive moment of utterance--now and now and now; in other words, the continuously moving present, not previous moments of poor performance and certainly not upcoming feared words." Thus language and life intertwine, each influencing the other.
I highly recommend this novel to any audience.
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