Samuel Delany's "Dhalgren"

After a couple of years of staring at this book on my "to read" stack, I finally read it. For those of you not familiar with this work, Dhalgren is one of those famously difficult pieces of fiction loosely labelled as SF, and often called a masterpiece. It seems like very few people have the patience to work their way through the 890 pages of writing to form an opinion. I've gotten pretty good at grinding my way through difficult works (loved Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle"), so I thought I'd give it a shot. I don't yet have an opinion. Usually, it takes me a few weeks to completely digest a work of this type, read some criticism and commentary, and formulate a conclusion. Right now I don't know if it's a masterpiece, and can't say for sure it's fiction let alone SF.

It is, I am confident in saying, a remarkably effective book. By this, I mean it affects the reader. It stimulates moods and thought patterns in a way most fiction does not, at least not in me. Fear, confusion, lust, horror, anger, fondness, sorrow, were all clearly communicated to me and caused to form in me. This can be good and exciting, or troubling. Regardless, it is impressive. What's lacking right now is understanding.

What is Delany trying to say with this work? Is it fiction, or an extensive riff on the theme of identity? If it's fiction, what is the story "about"? For that matter, what is "the story"?

A friend of mine who's had his literary abilities all-but-documented by the academy referred to Delany as "apparently the real thing", so I'm willing to trust the both of them far enough to say Dleany is clearly doing something deliberate here. I guess it's my job to figure out what. Difficult works demand more from the reader. It's one of the reasons I enjoy reading them. Sure is hard work, though.

2008.02.13 at 12:00am EST