Monday, October 20, 2008

Book/Magazine Review: The Wall of America by Thomas M. Disch

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

There's a certain sophistication in Thomas M. Disch's writing especially with his tendency to combine dystopias with a light-hearted and almost playful tone. Most of the stories in Wall of America follow this formula yet the author is flexible enough that the stories come out fresh and unique. "Ringtime" for example prominently features science fiction elements while "One Night, or, Scheherazade's Bare Minimum" is very post-modern. Still, majority of the stories are bleak (and arguably prophetic considering the current economic and political climate) and can weigh down the reader.

I really enjoyed all the stories and perhaps what best characterizes the style of Disch is that he manages to strike a balance among all the elements of a story, whether it's setting, characterization, or plot. His text is meaty but not too intimidating, although concealed in the tone of his story are piercing commentaries that he transforms into satire.

"The Owl and the Pussycat" caught my eye as Disch presents a dysfunctional family that has a surreal quality to it considering that one of their children is a rag doll. There are numerous scenes which are emotionally-charged, whether it's a touching scene between the titular characters or the horror that is eventually unveiled.

"Torah! Torah! Torah!: Three Bible Tales for the Third Millenium" was quite funny as it re-tells famous Bible stories in a different light and it's not flattering. It has several post-modern qualities to it but Disch makes the prose work despite his anachronistic take on events.

"A Knight at the Opera" is one of the more optimistic stories in the collection and it was certainly a fascinating read as Disch tells a conventional story of the character reaching an epiphany--although the method in which he executes this is steady and subtle. Effective characterization makes the story work and uplifts the prose beyond mediocrity.

This was my first time reading Disch and it seems that his reputation is well deserved. I can get into his prose and they have a certain "meatiness" to them. Perhaps he's not in my favorite author's list but certainly someone whose past work I'll keep an eye on. There's also a certain daring on the part of Disch as The Wall of America requires a certain sophistication from its readers or else they'll miss out on the various implications.

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