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Customer Review

on March 12, 2002
Sitting in the office of an English professor whose opinions I respect, I noticed he had Harold Brodkey's chef d'oeuvre - the 30 years in the writing "The Runaway Soul" - wedged in his crowded shelves. Remembering how my initial fascination with that novel was drowned by the bewildering and ultimately awful *too-muchness* of that book, I asked the professor what he made of Brodkey. "He's insane, of course," was the ready reply.
Well, that might be oversimplifying the matter, but on re-reading "This Wild Darkness" recently, I decided that, for all its occasional brilliance in describing what it feels like to be inside a dying body, the professor's comment tells more of the story than it might seem at first glance - enough certainly for anyone who approaches Brodkey with a not unreasonable degree of skepticism. All too often, the author's observations about others and - his great subject - himself, have a strong whiff of delusional unreality about them. When he says that his "irresistability" as a young man was such that it led to people trying to abduct him, I simply don't believe him. The great James Salter, in his own memoir, remembers the younger, on-the-make, Brodkey-in-the-Sixties as a "troublemaker" and that sounds convincingly right.
And yet Brodkey must have had something going for him all those years when he managed to convince a few influential tastemakers that he was an unheralded genius and I believe he did. His mature style - a heterogenous mix of colloquial intimacy and ambitious abstraction - was truly unique and, at its occasional best, as surpassingly expressive as his literary padrones claimed. "This Wild Darkness", composed during a terminal illness, understandably does not represent this style at its highest pitch but it is still something that absolutely no one else could have written. That just might be achievement enough.
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