Out of the Loud Hound of Darkness: A Dictionarrative

Karen Elizabeth Gordon, Author
Karen Elizabeth Gordon, Author Pantheon Books $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-375-40198-5
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 10/01/1998
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Returning to the fertile lexicophilia of The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, Gordon's deeply wacky, sometimes frustrating chronicle of a made-up Balkan state takes the form of a grammar-and-usage guide. The ""dictionarrative"" opens with a list of dramatis personae--a confab of kings, fops and lexicographers, among them ""Count Ghastly the wretch of Lugubria with his fitful reclusions and morbid parlor games."" Readers will flip back to those opening pages repeatedly to make sense of the rest of the text, which Gordon has arranged and alphabetized under headings that disentangle word pairs like ""principal/principle"" and ""auspicious/ propitious."" Each of these ""couplings and confusions"" introduces a set of disconnected narrative sentences or paragraphs related to the header's words: for instance, ""premier"" (head of a country) and ""premiere"" (opening night) introduce a paragraph on a fire that broke out on the ""premiere of Clackengirth's opera,"" a sentence describing the audience for the premiere of Savage Nocturne and a delirious sentence about Jonquil's study of the Maloropians. The dramatis personae section reveals that Jonquil Allegra Mapp is a ""geographer/cartographer apprenticed to the wisest man in Louvelandia since her brisk dismissal from Amplochacha U. for compulsive effrontery."" A shorter, final section, ""A Cave Canem Companion Lexicon,"" strings its disjunctive incidents in similar fashion behind definitions of odd words (""retrouss ,"" ""riven,"" ""rubicund""). Gordon has created an odd hybrid, meant more to be dipped into than read straight through from beginning to end. The alphabetical schema dictate conjunctions that are sometimes of startling linguistic beauty, and sometimes merely silly, or flat. The ""dictionarrative"" is by turns a comically elaborate prose-poem, a fairy-tale adventure, a jigsaw-puzzle of a narrative and a pocket guide to usage. (Nov.)
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