Dissolution of Nicholas Dee

Overview

This darkly comic novel chronicles the life of Nicholas Dee, an earnest young historian whose crippling fear of loss has become his undoing. Lulled to sleep at night by the city's constant clatter of police choppers, Nicholas parlays his fear of losing everything into a promising idea for an academic grant: He will write a "History of Insurance." In this glittering, unidentified city of high culture and hideous crime, Nicholas can find no safe haven for the orderly life he desires. At night he is haunted by ...
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Overview

This darkly comic novel chronicles the life of Nicholas Dee, an earnest young historian whose crippling fear of loss has become his undoing. Lulled to sleep at night by the city's constant clatter of police choppers, Nicholas parlays his fear of losing everything into a promising idea for an academic grant: He will write a "History of Insurance." In this glittering, unidentified city of high culture and hideous crime, Nicholas can find no safe haven for the orderly life he desires. At night he is haunted by memories of his dead father; by day the devilish machinations of the university and the police ensnare him. His book, already evolving from a history of insurance into a compelling narrative tale (chronicling the creation of an opera house in seventeenth-century Holland), becomes his only refuge. "I had begun to lose myself, ever so slightly, in the handful of stories my life was generating: the opera house of Alton Motley beckoned me.... Memories of my father were gathering thick and last. Alive in the middle, l kept silent and observed the conduct of my researches into each of them." But his fragile stability cannot hold. While the city, washing away under ceaseless storms, descends into its midwinter carnival, Nicholas receives a phone call from the police. A curiously "gifted" illiterate boy named Oscar Vega has been arrested, and Nicholas becomes his custodian. The novel moves from stark realism into a kind of Kafkaesque grotesquerie as the real power behind these manifold changes reveals itself to him: Amelia Weathered, an ageless imperious dwarf, has set this vortex turning - it is into her seductions that he has fallen. "'She,' as she was known to me for several weeks thereafter, emerged like a crushed star and occupied an invisible position of gravity around which my life soon began spinning." Gradually, and with supreme intelligence, Amelia takes possession of Nicholas - and his book. She kindles his love for Oscar Vega, letting stories of the boy'
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The title character in this ponderous second novel by the author of Landscape Memory is a history professor in an unnamed city who is about to start work on his latest scholarly treatise: The History of Insurance: The Insurance of History . Dee meets and becomes obsessed with a mysterious three-foot-tall woman, who seems to know a great deal about him. After she mails him excerpts from a story about a boy named Oscar Vega, his obsession extends to Vega as well. Having woven an air of mystery around these characters in the first half, Stadler sets about demystifying them in the second: Vega is real; the woman (who was once bigger but has been ``waning, as of late'') is the wife of the chairman of Dee's department and was an intimate of Dee's late father. The details all come together in Holland where Dee is researching a 17th-century Dutch opera house built for the premiere of an operatic version of Purcell's The Tempest . Stadler is trying too hard here, troweling on the symbolism and innuendo, the footnotes and lengthy excerpts--from Dee's History of Insurance and especially from the opera. Written in the stiff formal style of an awkward translation of Kafka, Stadler's novel wants to be ``literature'' rather than just ``fiction,'' but because the story is neither exciting nor thought-provoking, the end result is simply deadening. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802136961
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.49 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.99 (d)

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