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The Sinking of The Odradek Stadium Paperback – November 1, 1999
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From Library Journal
This comic novel unfolds through correspondence between Zachary McCaltex, a librarian, and his wife, Twang, who is living apart from him in Italy. The two are trying to unearth the exact location of a 16th-century treasure somewhere off the Florida coast. As the story develops, it is evident that more than water separates these two.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"An imagination and an ingenuity that are often just astonishing.... This is a journey worth taking." -- Harper's
"A comic masterpiece, as funny as Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, as intricate as Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire.... In The Sinking of Odradek Stadium, he has created a seamless fabric, as tense, light, and strong as stretched silk." -- Edmund White, New York Times Book Review
"Harry Mathews has few, if any, equals in modern fiction." -- San Diego Tribune
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For those of you unfamiliar with Mathews' work, he's a member of the Oulipo, a group (or groups) of writers, mathematicians, poets, painters, etc., etc. - who both rescue stylistic constraints from the past and create new ones of their own. So you can always expect that their works will be impeccable structured, rich in detail, language play, and erudition. On top of that, at least one of the characters (Twang) is beautifully written, with a wealth of puns and a generous heap of charm.
There are two minor concerns with the novel that forced me to downgrade it to 4 stars, instead of a perfect five. The first is that the big plot twist, while necessary to set up the game of gross misjudgments in the second half of the novel, comes across as a bit contrived. The second is that the style, while often flexible, fascinating, and outright hilarious, is sometimes uneven - there's none of the assuredness in his writing that you'd find in Cigarettes, for example.
Still, a great read, and highly highly recommended. I wish Mathews and the Oulipo gang were more widely read.
Yes, as long as Zachary is doing the narrating, it's interesting. Yes, there is bizarre poetic writing. Yes, there are arcane vocabulary words that will send you to the dictionary. Yes, there is splashy local color about the Carnival celebrations in Miami. Yes, there are amusing details about some secret cult and its rites and initiations. And lots of intrigue about old maps and missing Medici gold. But it's just not worth it. You have to force your way through Twang's subliterate phrasings, and I found it so easy to just skip her letters entirely. And, yes, there is some kind of triple or quadruple twist in the final pages, but I just didn't get a sense that the payoff was worth it.