Tuesday, March 6, 2012

EnriqueFreeque's Thoughts on Steve Erickson

My pal who goes by the nom de guerre Enrique Freeque has started a group on LibraryThing to discuss the works of Steve Erickson, author of two Europa books, These Dreams of You (see Josh's great review below) and Zeroville. The following is his introductory post to the group with some of his thoughts on Erickson; Enrique is not a member of the challenge (yet!) but I hope to convince him to join. He has a great blog, too.  Here's his post!

John Domini wrote an exceptional two-part essay on the history of mainstream publishing's vilification of untraditional, "postmodern" style novels that began here in the States (I paraphrase) in a big one-two punch beginning in '76 when Gore Vidal wrote his "American Plastic" piece, and in '78 when John Gardner published On Moral Fiction. The full essay is right here.

In the second part of the essay, Domini defends Erickson's Zeroville, and is critical of reviewers who have been unable to adequately review the work of Steve Erickson. "Adequately," as I see it, meaning a critic demonstrating the willingness to engage enough -- work, sweat, labor -- with the content and shifting narratives of the novels rather than merely off-handedly critiquing the work with what amounts to an easy "I don't get it" or some other flippant diminishment.

Help! I'm guilty of Domini's accusations! I found myself completely lost, for instance, in my first go-round with Tours of the Black Clock, unable to even summarize with much coherence or confidence when I attempted to "review" it a few years back, what it was I'd just read. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy reading the book -- the writing, the imagery, the ideas, all of it was mesmerizing -- I just didn't, uh, sorry John Domini, "get it" as much as I'd hoped to get or felt I should have gotten! I hope to get it much better my second time around once I begin it again after I finish Rubicon Beach in a few weeks.

I'm comforted knowing that I'm not alone in being sometimes mystified by Steve Erickson. I'm in some pretty good company. Anthony Burgess (thank you, Alex Austin, for the heads-up on this Burgess criticism you referred me to a couple months ago), wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Erickson had "jettisoned too many of the novel's traditional properties" in describing Arc d'X, Erickson's fourth novel (1993), for the novel to work. Burgess went on and slammed Erickson as being essentially an incomprehensible upstart. Ouch. I've read elsewhere that Erickson for a long time has stopped reading reviews of his work. I've had to hunt hard just for these few excerpts from that Burgess review, otherwise I'd of linked it here.