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Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and ...
Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.
to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out for the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind.
All you know I know: careening astronauts and bank clerks glancing at the clock before lunch; actresses cowling at light-ringed mirrors and freight elevator operators grinding a thumbful of grease on a steel handle; student riots; know that dark women in bodegas shook their heads last week because in six months prices have risen outlandishly; how coffee tastes after you've held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute.
A whole minute he squatted, pebbles clutched with his left foot (the bare one), listening to his breath sound tumble down the ledges.
Beyond a leafy arras, reflected moonlight flittered.
He rubbed his palms against denim. Where he was, was still. Somewhere else, wind whined.
The leaves winked.
What had been wind was a motion in brush below. His hand went to the rock behind.
She stood up, two dozen feet down and away, wearing only shadows the moon dropped from the viney maple; moved, and the shadows moved on her.
Fear prickled one side where his shirt (two middle buttons gone) bellied with a breeze. Muscle made a band down the back of his jaw. Black hair tried to paw off what fear scored on his forehead.
She whispered something that was all breath, and the wind came for the words and dusted away the meaning:
"Ahhhhh . . ." from her.
He forced out air: it was nearly a cough.
". . . Hhhhhh . . ." from her again. And laughter; which had a dozen edges in it, a bright snarl under the moon. ". . . hhhHHhhhh . . ." which had more sound in it than that, perhaps was his name, even. But the wind, wind . . .
Motion rearranged the shadows, baring one breast. There was a lozenge of light over one eye. Calf and ankle were luminous before leaves.
Down her lower leg was a scratch.
His hair tugged back from his forehead. He watched hers flung forward. She moved with her hair, stepping over leaves, toes spread on stone, in a tip-toe pause, to quit the darker shadows.
Crouched on rock, he pulled his hands up his thighs.
His hands were hideous.
She passed another, nearer tree. The moon flung gold coins at her breasts. Her brown aureoles were wide, her nipples small. "You. . . ?" She said that, softly, three feet away, looking down; and he still could not make out her expression for the leaf dappling; but her cheek bones were Orientally high. She was Oriental, he realized and waited for another word, tuned for accent. (He could sort Chinese from Japanese.) "You've come!" It was a musical Midwestern Standard. "I didn't know if you'd come!" Her voicing (a clear soprano, whispering . . .) said that some of what he'd thought was shadow-movement might have been fear: "You're here!" She dropped to her knees in a roar of foliage. Her thighs, hard in front, softer (he could tell) on the sides-a column of darkness between them-were inches from his raveled knees.
She reached, two fingers extended, pushed back plaid wool, and touched his chest; ran her fingers down. He could hear his own crisp hair.
Laughter raised her face to the moon. He leaned forward; the odor of lemons filled the breezeless gap. Her round face was compelling, her eyebrows un-Orientally heavy. He judged her over thirty, but the only lines were two small ones about her mouth.
He turned his mouth, open, to hers, and raised his hands to the sides of her head till her hair covered them. The cartilages of her ears were hot curves on his palms. Her knees slipped in leaves; that made her blink and laugh again. Her breath was like noon and smelled of lemons . . .
He kissed her; she caught his wrists. The joined meat of their mouths came alive. The shape of her breasts, her hand half on his chest and half on wool, was lost with her weight against him.
Their fingers met and meshed at his belt; a gasp bubbled in their kiss (his heart was stuttering loudly), was blown away; then air on his thigh.
They lay down.
With her fingertips she moved his cock head roughly in her rough hair while a muscle in her leg shook under his. Suddenly he slid into her heat. He held her tightly around the shoulders when her movements were violent. One of her fists stayed like a small rock over her breast. And there was a roaring, roaring: at the long, surprising come, leaves hailed his side.
Later, on their sides, they made a warm place with their mingled breath. She whispered, "You're beautiful, I think." He laughed, without opening his lips. Closely, she looked at one of his eyes, looked at the other (he blinked), looked at his chin (behind his lips he closed his teeth so that his jaw moved), then at his forehead. (He liked her lemon smell.) " . . . beautiful!" she repeated.
Wondering was it true, he smiled.
She raised her hand into the warmth, with small white nails, moved one finger beside his nose, growled against his cheek.
He reached to take her wrist.
She asked, "Your hand. . . ?"
So he put it behind her shoulder to pull her nearer.
She twisted. "Is there something wrong with your. . . ?"
He shook his head against her hair, damp, cool, licked it.
Behind him, the wind was cool. Below hair, her skin was hotter than his tongue. He brought his hands around into the heated cave between them.
She pulled back. "Your hands-!"
Veins like earthworms wriggled in the hair. The skin was cement dry; his knuckles were thick with scabbed callous. Blunt thumbs lay on the place between her breasts like toads.
She frowned, raised her knuckles toward his, stopped.
Under the moon on the sea of her, his fingers were knobbed peninsulas. Sunk on the promontory of each was a stripped-off, gnawed-back, chitinous wreck.
"You. . . ?" he began.
No, they were not deformed. But they were . . . ugly! She looked up. Blinking, her eyes glistened.
". . . do you know my . . . ?" His voice hoarsened. "Who I . . . am?"
Her face was not subtle; but her smile, regretful and mostly in the place between her brow and her folded lids, confused.
"You," she said, full voice and formal (but the wind still blurred some overtone), "have a father." Her hip was warm against his belly. The air which he had thought mild till now was a blade to pry back his loins. "You have a mummer-!" That was his cheek against her mouth. But she turned her face away. "You are-" she placed her pale hand over his great one (Such big hands for a little ape of a guy, someone had kindly said. He remembered that) on her ribs-"beautiful. You've come from somewhere. You're going somewhere." She sighed.
"But . . ." He swallowed the things in his throat (he wasn't that little). "I've lost . . . something."
"Things have made you what you are," she recited. "What you are will make you what you will become."
"I want something back!"
She reached behind her to pull him closer. The cold well between his belly and the small of her back collapsed. "What don't you have?" She looked over her shoulder at him: "How old are you?"
"You have the face of someone much younger." She giggled. "I thought you were . . . sixteen! You have the hands of someone much older-"
"-crueler than I think you are. Where were you born?"
"Upstate New York. You wouldn't know the town. I didn't stay there long."
"I probably wouldn't. You're a long way away."
"I've been to Japan. And Australia."
He laughed. His chest shook her shoulder. "One year at Columbia. Almost another at a community college in Delaware. No degree."
"What year were you born?"
"Nineteen forty-eight. I've been in Central America too. Mexico. I just came from Mexico and I-"
"What do you want to change in the world?" she continued her recitation, looking away. "What do you want to preserve? What is the thing you're searching for? What are you running away from?"
"Nothing," he said. "And nothing. And nothing. And . . . nothing, at least that I know."
"You have no purpose?"
"I want to get to Bellona and-" He chuckled. "Mine's the same as everybody else's; in real life, anyway: to get through the next second, consciousness intact."
The next second passed.
"Really?" she asked, real enough to make him realize the artificiality of what he'd said (thinking: It is in danger with the passing of each one). "Then be glad you're not just a character scrawled in the margins of somebody else's lost notebook: you'd be deadly dull. Don't you have any reason for going there?"
"To get to Bellona and . . ."
When he said no more, she said, "You don't have to tell me. So, you don't know who you are? Finding that out would be much too simple to bring you all the way from upper New York State, by way of Japan, here. Ahhh . . ." and she stopped.
"Well, if you were born in nineteen forty-eight, you've got to be older than twenty-seven."
"How do you mean?"
"Oh, hell," she said. "It isn't important."
He began to shake her arm, slowly.
She said: "I was born in nineteen forty-seven. And I'm a good deal older then twenty-eight." She blinked at him again. "But that really isn't im-"
He rolled back in the loud leaves. "Do you know who I am?" Night was some color between clear and cloud. "You came here, to find me. Can't you tell me what my name is?"
Cold spread down his side, where she had been, like butter.
He turned his head.
"Come!" As she sat, her hair writhed toward him. A handful of leaves struck his face.
He sat too.
But she was already running, legs passing and passing through moon-dapple.
He wondered where she'd got that scratch.
Grabbing his pants, he stuck foot and foot in them, grabbing his shirt and single sandal, rolled to his feet-
She was rounding the rock's edge.
He paused for his fly and the twin belt hooks. Twigs and gravel chewed his feet. She ran so fast!
He came up as she glanced back, put his hand on the stone-and flinched: the rock-face was wet. He looked at the crumbled dirt on the yellow ham and heel.
"There . . ." She pointed into the cave. "Can you see it?"
He started to touch her shoulder, but no.
She said: "Go ahead. Go in."
He dropped his sandal: a lisp of brush. He dropped his shirt: that smothered the lisping.
She looked at him expectantly, stepped aside.
He stepped in: moss on his heel, wet rock on the ball of his foot. His other foot came down: wet rock.
Breath quivered about him. In the jellied darkness something dry brushed his cheek. He reached up: a dead vine crisp with leaves. It swung: things rattled awfully far overhead. With visions of the mortal edge, he slid his foot forward. His toes found: a twig with loose bark . . . a clot of wet leaves . . . the thrill of water . . . Next step, water licked over his foot. He stepped again:
A flicker, left.
Stepped again, and the flicker was orange, around the edge of something; which was the wall of a rock niche, with shadow for ceiling, next step.
Beyond a dead limb, a dish of brass wide as a car tire had nearly burned to embers. Something in the remaining fire snapped, spilling sparks on wet stone.
Ahead, where the flicker leaked high up into the narrowing slash, something caught and flung back flashings.
He climbed around one boulder, paused; the echo from breath and burning cast up intimations of the cavern's size. He gauged a crevice, leaped the meter, and scrambled on the far slope. Things loosened under his feet. He heard pebbles in the gash complaining down rocks, and stuttering, and whispering-and silence.
Then: a splash!
He pulled in his shoulders; he had assumed it was only a yard or so deep.
He had to climb a long time. One face, fifteen feet high, stopped him a while. He went to the side and clambered up the more uneven outcroppings. He found a thick ridge that, he realized as he pulled himself up it, was a root. He wondered what it was a root to, and gained the ledge.
Something went Eeek! softly, six inches from his nose, and scurried off among old leaves.
He swallowed, and the prickles tidaling along his shoulders subsided. He pulled himself the rest of the way, and stood:
It lay in a crack that slanted into roofless shadow.
One end looped a plume of ferns.
He reached for it; his body blocked the light from the brazier below: glimmer ceased.
He felt another apprehension than that of the unexpected seen before, or accidentally revealed behind. He searched himself for some physical sign that would make it real: quickening breath, slowing heart. But what he apprehended was insubstantial as a disjunction of the soul. He picked the chain up; one end chuckled and flickered down the stone. He turned with it to catch the orange glimmer.
Some of them, anyway.
Others were round.
He ran the chain across his hand. Some of the round ones were transparent. Where they crossed the spaces between his fingers, the light distorted. He lifted the chain to gaze through one of the lenses. But it was opaque. Tilting it, he saw pass, dim and inches distant in the circle, his own eye, quivering in the quivering glass.
Everything was quiet.
He pulled the chain across his hand. The random arrangement went almost nine feet. Actually, three lengths were attached. Each of the three ends looped on itself. On the largest loop was a small metal tag.
He stooped for more light.
The centimeter of brass (the links bradded into the optical bits were brass) was inscribed: producto do Brazil.
He thought: What the hell kind of Portuguese is that?
He crouched a moment longer looking along the glittering lines.
He tried to pull it all together for his jean pocket, but the three tangled yards spilled his palms. Standing, he found the largest loop and lowered his head. Points and edges nipped his neck. He got the tiny rings together under his chin and fingered (Thinking: Like damned clubs) the catch closed.
He looked at the chain in loops of light between his feet. He picked up the shortest end from his thigh. The loop there was smaller.
He waited, held his breath even-then wrapped the length twice around his upper arm, twice around his lower, and fastened the catch at his wrist. He flattened his palm on the links and baubles hard as plastic or metal. Chest hair tickled the creasing between joint and joint.
As author, I've been asked to write about what's made the book endure in a world where current volumes hit the bookstore shelves like flash-paper squares, frequently leaving, a month later, not even an ash trace. A true explanation, I think, must hold open room for a large element of luck -- and the parts that are more than luck the writer is the last to know. Still, from the considerable mail Dhalgren netted me during its first decade of life, I recall what readers wrote me. Letter to letter, the repeated theme was: "You're writing about people I actually know -- and people I just don't see written about in most novels" -- often followed by a "Thank you." What I was doing, of course, was writing about people I knew.
Not four full months after Pearl Harbor, I was born in New York's largest black neighborhood: boisterous, colorful, crowded Harlem. The '40s saw World War II close and, by the '50s, the Korean War open. And the crowding in the city's ghetto neighborhoods began to displace the color, all efficiency, and -- soon -- most remnants of civil community. In the summer of 1957, my family moved from the center of Harlem to a set of co-op apartments just above Columbia University: Morningside Gardens -- integrated, liberal, and part of the brave new vision of post-war affluence. At the time, we were unaware we were the first wave of what would become a mass exodus, leaving Harlem itself, along with other black neighborhoods in the city -- the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyevasant -- broken, devastated, subject to fires and even greater vandalism, and all but deserted.
Twenty years later, when I came to write Dhalgren, no matter what catastrophic solar or lunar portents flooded them now and again, those deserted avenues, those boarded-up and burned-out buildings were my models for the streets and buildings of Bellona, where my long-haired, leather-vested characters walked, ran, or sometimes staggered. As well, the Labrys Apartments were the echoing hallways of Morningside, which, in their fluorescent-lit emptiness, seemed not nearly so far from the empty streets a blocks or two to the east as they were supposed to be.
If Harlem's devastation had been only a New York City problem, Dhalgren might have sold far fewer copies. By the mid-'70s, however, when the book first appeared, practically every major city in the country (Cincinnati, Atlanta, Philadelphia...) had each developed its own blighted, burned-out inner city, frequently occupying as much as a fourth of the overall urban area; so that even people who did not live there had still looked at those streets, had driven through them, had skirted them on foot in the evenings, and had experienced a little wonder (if not some fear) at what they meant about the American dream -- or, as it seemed more and more, the American dream-world.
I can only assume that my early readers recognized those images -- the streets of burned-out Bellona -- and drew something from the correspondences with the streets so close to them in other towns, though whether it was with relief or anxiety, I wouldn't even try to say. For most people, even those with the socioeconomic explanations for what was happening in the city, those streets represented a mystery. In Dhalgren, they are a mystery too -- not the same one, of course. But the story veers toward and swoops away from that mystery in a manner that, over its first dozen years, readers found interesting enough to carry the book through a million sales.
When Dhalgren had been out only a single year, one astute young woman wrote me from Indianapolis: "I just realized, in Bellona -- your city that's supposed to be in the center of the country -- the exteriors are all New York and the interiors are all San Francisco." I can't argue. Despite the final rewrite in London, those were the cities I'd lived in through the initial drafts.
Finally, however, the reasons a book remains in memory are just the mystery underlying the simple statement I found in so many letters: "I really liked it . . ." However mystery transforms into clarity or the obvious translates into mystery, if it holds the book in the attention of the reader, the author can only be grateful. (Samuel R. Delany)
Posted March 10, 2010
Dhalgren is a weird case for me, because when I was first reading it and people asked me how it was, I would say, "I really like it, but I'm not sure I would recommend it." It's a very punk novel, in a post-apocalyptic and forgotten city called Bellona, with a poetic and sex-loving wanderer simply named The Kid as the protagonist. The point of view varies from past to present, from first to third tense seemingly at random; punctuation and complete sentences aren't a constant occurrence. It's like nothing I've ever read. It stuck with me long after I'd finished it in a way most books do not, and I came to realize that the reason I liked it so much was this: if I were to live in any bohemian anarchic society, this is the one I would choose. If you want to work you can; if not, you don't. If you want to be part of a gang, they'll welcome you; if you want to pretend life still goes on as normal, move into a vacant apartment. When you want to get laid, there's always someone there for you; if you just want to hang out with friends, they're already there. It follows the life of a free-living writer without getting bogged down in drugs like so many similar novels predictably do. It's creative and different and downright weird. But if you're turned off by detailed and nontraditional sex scenes, this book is not for you. And don't expect all the freaky stuff that happens in Bellona to have a neat and tidy explanation. It doesn't. Dhalgren is straight up something way different and fun for the adventurous. It's definitely a unique read.
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Posted June 6, 2011
This book can be read at multiple levels. As a slow-moving adventure tale, as a post-apocalyptic novel, and as a deeper, philosophical treatise on where humans are moving. I'm sure there are levels of thought in this book that are far beyond my comprehension, but as I reread this novel every five or six years, I hope to continue pulling things out that have escaped my notice in the past.
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Posted April 29, 2009
The story begins with this cryptic passage:
"to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out for the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind."
This is Samuel R. Delaney's finest work. I originally read this book in 1974 as a teenager, and my expectation of what I might expect to encounter in the written word was forever transformed. This is not a book for the casual reader. The author playfully juggles expectations, creating a growing sense of patterns never finally realized, with ultimate mysteries never solved. Much like life! The story isn't about endings, or enlightenment, but rather about experiences and perspectives. Understanding is the booby prize--experience is everything. Delany has a knack for turning reader expectations against the reader to baffle and transcend.
We are accustomed to storytelling in the first person--stories being told by a narrator who understands, and has grown from the experiences that he now unfolds in the storytelling. But what if the narrator has a skewed view of reality, was unhinged by his experiences, has become confused, or been ravaged by incomplete menories?
All that was known is over. All that was familiar is strange and terrible. Stripped of literary conventions, Dhalgren is that experimental novel. William Gibson calls Dhalgren "A riddle that was never meant to be solved."
At the level of plot, in these dying days of earth a young drifter enters the city of Bellona--a fictional mythical city cut off from the rest of the world by some unknown catastrophe. As he wanders through the social disorganizetion of the ruined city, distorted by unexplained temporal anomalies, he encounters a cast of archetypal characters, individuals and gangs, too numerous to mention, each uniquely rendered. But this story is not constrained by its plot.
The story ends:
"I still hear them walking in the trees: not speaking.
Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of
the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland into the
hills, I have come to... "
The unclosed closing sentence can be read as leading into the unopened opening sentence, turning the novel into an enigmatic circle.
Dhalgren is a unique experience. an unexpected journey. You will never read another book like it.
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Posted October 28, 2008
I Also Recommend:
There isn't much that I can say about dhalgren without completely blowing it, but I guess some description of this puzzle is necessary to get people to read it.<BR/><BR/>Dhalgren is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel set in the American town of Bellona. Delany's nameless protagonist wanders through the streets of this burning, constantly shifting city, trying to make heads and tails of what is going on. There's a lot of sex, drama and violence, as well as holographic dragons and animals roaming through the streets like gangs in a metropolis.<BR/><BR/>There are seven "books" to dhalgren, each one diving heavily into metaphysics and producing passages that break its usual third-person narrative. It's definitely not a book for people who are fans of series novels and genre fiction. If you like to think about what you read, then I'd suggest you give this one a shot. You'll spend much of your time deciphering the overall theme of the novel, but once you get into it, dhalgren is an extremely well crafted labyrinth that easily could be read over and over again.
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Posted November 11, 2014
I love Hard Sci-Fi and was recommended to me as such although I would call this much more then Sci-Fi. It was difficult for me to start through, but when I thought I couldn't read anymore I kept reading and reading and reading. By the end I felt accomplished and happy I read such a unique read and very pleased with the journey this took me on. While I will not recommend this book to everyone it is in my opinion very worth reading if you are willing to give it a try and have an open mind.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 5, 2014
Posted January 31, 2014
I read this book when years ago when it first hit the shelves. I read and reread it and the pages started to fall out. My book was destroyed by a forest fire when my camping trailer burned up. Now to buy another copy and start the journey with The Kid agin.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 14, 2014
I read this book a long time ago (before Nooks were born for sure) and was engrossed from page one. Often I did not know what was happening or who was what, but the writing was so captivating, it didn't matter. I have since read it again and enjoyed it just as much the second time. Now here it is on Nook - I'll have to get it on this venue and read it again.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 18, 2010
This book was terrible, and not just in a poorly executed story or loophole sort of way, but in a truly ridiculous, nonsensical way. First of all this book is about being gay or bisexual. That's the theme. Don't even read the liner notes, pay no attention to the sci-fi listing, it is mind numbingly long read about being gay or bisexual. This book was so terrible, it was one vampire away from being Anne Rices best work. If you are looking for a truly good post-apocalyptic novel try The Diamond Age or anything else really...
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Posted December 20, 2009
This is quite lterally the worst book I have ever read. I finished it thinking that the end would bring it all together and it would finally make some sense. Not so much. It was just awful from cover to cover.
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Posted August 11, 2009
Let me just say that I am a big fan of hardcore SF. I don't mind reading a few hundred pages to start to understand where the book is going. I made it half way through this book and it was still confusing and very very boring. I tried this book four times before I made it that far. I have finally given up completely. In my opinion, Delany was dropping acid the entire time he was writing this book. I didn't need the strange and explicitly described sex scenes in the book; both Homo and Hetero sexual. Although I didn't put it down for that reason. The book was just plain boring and going nowhere fast. After I put it down, I read the summary on wikiapedia and it sounds like I didn't miss anything. From the wiki article I found out that two author I respect and like, Pk Dick and Harlan Ellison both hated and trashed the book. They also couldn't finish it. I felt bad that I didn't work my way through it and give it more of a chance until I read that. Do not waste your time on this poorly written piece of trash.
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Posted December 19, 2008
This is a hard book to read! I have had to put it down several times, however it has been great to read in between my on-line orders
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Posted April 16, 2002
I first read this book back in 1993, when obtaining a copy was extremely difficult (the reprints didn't start 'til 1996). Today, as then, I find this sci-fi alt-future post-apocolypse (?) novel to be one of the finest examples of Samuel Delaney's work. His exquisite mastery of descriptions pulls the reader in and his use of parallel, intertwining columns of text telling both story and personal narrative makes for richly textured reading. At the same time, Delaney is unafraid to address questions of sexuality, race, gender, and relationships. This book is a landmark of black gay writing as well as of science fiction. The ONLY downside that I can see is that while the style is intelligently complicated, it sometimes makes the novel slightly impenetrable. But these moments pass and the reader is left with a very satisfying novel, one he or she will be picking up again and again.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 12, 2009
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Posted February 21, 2009
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Posted January 13, 2009
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