The Runaway Soul

Harold Brodkey, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $30 (835p) ISBN 978-0-374-25286-1
The Novel We Have All Been Waiting For turns out to be a sometimes brilliant evocation of the condition of being, pulsing with sensory imagery and with flashes of insight about the inherent qualities of good and evil and the presence of death in life. Brodkey's prose is supple, playful, often lyrical, but his obsession with words and the sensations they evoke is a detriment to dramatic tension. Thus the novel is also flabby, bloated, overwritten, overwrought, often tediously self-indulgent. Exquisitely sensitive and introspective Wiley Silenowicz looks back over a painful childhood and youth spent with his foster parents, Lila and S.L., and his slightly crazy half-sister, Nonie. His stream-of-consciousness narration is an attempt to resolve his relationships with all of them, especially with obnoxious, manipulative Nonie, whom he may have cheated of her parents' love. In a series of vignettes, slowly (too slowly) accruing into the story of his life, Wiley's neuroses are examined and explained, most of them attributable to the suppurating wound of his natural mother's death. In some respects Brodkey is a master of his craft. His ear for dialogue is beautifully tuned, especially in capturing Lila's insistent, cliche-laden, brassy voice. His meditations on language and his attempts to express the essence of an experience are provocative (although in some nearly interminable chapters, such as one called On Nearly Getting Laid, the repetition of minute detail renders sex virtually unerotic). Moreover, since these characters have already appeared in Stories in an Almost Classical Mode , much of the time the reader feels a sense of deja vu. In the end, the sheer wizardry of words tumbling on the page, the turbulent torrent of memories and desires, contribute to an intriguing fugal meditation on existence but do not amount to a compelling novel. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/04/1991
Release date: 11/01/1991
Paperback - 835 pages - 978-0-06-097504-3
Paperback - 848 pages - 978-0-8050-5503-0
Ebook - 835 pages - 978-1-4804-2799-0
Open Ebook - 848 pages - 978-1-4464-1964-9
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