In the story ''The Silence of Thelonious Monk'' (second in brilliance here only to the luminous ''Sightings''), he imagines Monk speaking to him from beyond the grave: ''Who said I retreated to silence? Retreat hell. I was attacking in another direction.'' For Monk, that is, as for Giacometti and John Edgar Wideman, the question is how to get at the something new that the world and the self keep becoming, how to say the too much there always is to say.
The New York Times
There is a very obvious reason why John Edgar Wideman is one of America's most celebrated authors: He is very good. With God's Gym, the author's first short-story collection in more than 10 years, we are reminded of this again and again. It is a slim volume, but Wideman's prose -- difficult and dense, but also beautiful and wounding -- is best consumed in such small portions.
The Washington Post
Pushing the boundaries of narrative and form, two-time PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Wideman (Hoop Roots, etc.) delivers a sometimes electric and sometimes confounding collection of 10 short stories. In the best of these, such as the heartfelt "Are Dreams Faster Than the Speed of Light," about a dying man, and the racially charged "Fanon," Wideman wields his stream-of-consciousness prose to great effect. Often, however, the clever allusions and deft turns of phrase rise one after the other in an almost Sisyphean struggle toward perfection. For instance, in "What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence," a full page and a half is devoted to describing a coyote "camouflaged by hovering darkness, by mottled fur, a shadow itself, instantly freezing, sniffing the air" as it roams outside a prison. The language is beautiful, but the detour is so long it stops the story dead. The most frustrating example of this calculated experimentation is "The Silence of Thelonious Monk," which starts with a pistol fight between Verlaine and Rimbaud, shifts into the opening lines of a love story and then heads off into an imagined biography of Monk himself. All of which Wideman pulls off with undeniable virtuosity, but it's precisely this sort of narrative acrobatics that too often robs his stories of their power. The full range of Wideman's talents are on display here, however, and even those stories that don't quite live up to expectations are punctuated by moments of brilliance. (Feb. 9) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Wideman (Sent for You Yesterday) here offers ten stories that range widely from family and basketball to illness and death. In addition, race is an important element. The first story, "Weight," is a son's tribute to a mother who has struggled to care for her children under the most adverse of circumstances. "Who Invented the Jump Shot" connects the early Harlem Globetrotters' travels to a small racist town with the plight of an African American boy stranded there. In the final story, "Sightings," the narrator momentarily thinks he sees a dead colleague. This sighting brings back memories of the colleague and another childhood friend, both committed suicide. Wideman's stories are feasts of language offering up new metaphors and original imagery. He often uses a dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness style, wandering seemingly far from the original story but eventually resolving back to the starting elements. Each story is a gem that grows more brilliant with rereading. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/04.]-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Fluid structures and tensely contained emotion bulk large in this third collection from the PEN/Faulkner Award winner (Fever, 1989; Philadelphia Fire, 1990; etc.). The method in these ten stories is quickly established in the opener, "Weight," an ironically affectionate paean to its unnamed narrator's frail, cancer-ridden mother, whose stoical shouldering of her own and others' burdens is metaphorically compared to weight-lifting-as is the narrator's own act of helping carry the coffin. In the similar "Are Dreams Faster Than the Speed of Light," a man dying of a lingering neurological disease plans the mercy killing of his equally moribund elderly father, a VA hospital patient. But life perversely reasserts itself ("No opportunity, after all, to play God"). The best of the stories are charged with deep feeling, impressive verbal skill, and a salutary fatalism that honors, as it scrutinizes, its characters' ability to take the blows rained down on them, and to keep on truckin'. And their range is often extraordinary: from a pro basketball player's mid-game collapse to a rich remembrance of a beloved grandfather's burial ("Who Weeps When One of Us Goes Down Blues"), or the wrenching tale ("What We Cannot Speak of We Must Pass Over in Silence") of a middle-aged bachelor's casual friendship with the father of a lifer imprisoned in Arizona, to whom the narrator brings the news of the death of the prisoner's father. Wideman stumbles in free-form tales evoking eminent black icons ("Fanon," "The Silence of Thelonious Monk"). But he achieves a tour de force in the luminous "Sightings," whose itinerant academic narrator meditates to stunning effect on the suicide of two very different friends andcolleagues-and endures the disturbingly monitory experience of "my dead greeting me, testing me, reminding me that there won't be another time." A rich display of the varied skills of one of our finest writers.