30

Stephen Dixon, Author Henry Holt & Company $30 (656p) ISBN 978-0-8050-5923-6
Dixon's fiction never stops. Not only does he write lots of it (30 being his 20th book; see review of Sleep, Forecasts, Feb. 1); not only are his memorable protagonists nonstop worriers or talkers; not only do his sentences, paragraphs, dialogues and monologues spread out (a typical paragraph lasts two pages)--but his insights into motive, emotion, interaction, speech and thought are as prodigious as his output. Reading Dixon's fiction amounts to following him as far into his characters' thoughts as he can go. 30 takes its name from its 30 ""episodes,"" all surrounding Dixon's alter ego, Gould Bookbinder, like Dixon a New York writer with two daughters, who teaches at a college in Baltimore. Gould's wife, Sally, has MS; she and Gould's mother both use wheelchairs. The stories interweave episodes from Gould's earliest childhood (""The Dinner Table"") to his divorce (""The First Woman""). As in Dixon's best-known novel, Frog, small or banal incidents take up pages of thoughts and dialogue and recollection: the effect is stroboscopic, a reel of minutiae that turns ordinary days into intricate, compulsive rituals. Perhaps the funniest episode is ""The Burial,"" in which Gould tries to steal a book of Emily Dickinson's poetry from a public library to read at his mother's funeral. Other stories depart from realism: ""The Miracle"" cures Sally's disability, and ""Ends"" presents several handfuls of incompatible ways to end the novel (in several, Gould dies). Dixon's prose can be brilliantly accurate, or draining, or excruciating, or all three. Sometimes the novel feels vertiginously dense, like a three-hour movie consisting solely of closeups. At other times it's simply more demanding, and more rewarding, than ordinary, ordinarily plotted, novels. Dixon owes Joyce a lot, and it's entirely appropriate that the end of ""Ends"" invokes the Molly Bloom episode in Ulysses; Dixon's intentions are certainly on that scale. (May) FYI: Two of Dixon's previous novels, Interstate (1995) and Frog (1991), were finalists for the National Book Award.
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
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