Cover of Dhalgren.

Asking me to rate Dhalgren by Samuel Delany is like asking me to rate Kafka’s Process. I’m sure that they are both good books, objectively. I’m sure they are good books to many people out there. I can recognize their excellent language, their meta storytelling, their intense settings and the skilled ways they use language to provoke feelings (which they do!).

It’s only … the feelings that they provoke, are oppressive, depressive, sucking me dry of any energy and impulse and feeling. This is how I felt reading Kafka, and that’s how I felt reading Dhalgren. I wanted to know the ending! I definitely wanted to know more about the protagonist, and his life, and his choices! But this city with its undefined catastrophe in the background, with unexplainable phenomena everywhere, which are never resolved were too much a negative backdrop for me to enjoy the upsides: Creative storytelling, realistic characters with flaws (plenty) and charms (occasional). Kinks, violence, sex, polyamory, race, anarchy, hierarchy, linguistical discussions – all of these parts were good, and fun! In the last, endless chapter (roughly the last 20% of the book) the storytelling disintegrates entirely, both in time, and style, and trustworthiness, and coherency, and it’s all sorts of fun – but it’s fun in a world without meaning where the sun never shines. I’m afraid I’ll remain a fan of Delany’s shorter works, and put down Dhalgren as “not for me”.

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