22 December 2007

Samuel R. Delany, Dark Reflections, 2007

I doubt I will ever read science fiction as completely original as the best of Delany, but his fantasy was patchy and some of his mainstream fiction is strictly optional: I begged off of reading Hogg and The Mad Man as I personally don’t go for hardcore gay porn dressed up as serious lit. Dark Reflections has some of the same content but here it’s kept contained by that other extreme of language, the delicately observed negotiations of a sensitive poet. The three long stories are of two significant episodes and one life-shaping misperception in the life of Arnold Hawley, a particularly passive an introspective black American poet in his seventies living in New York. The episode that is particularly well observed is the first piece, ‘The Prize’, about the importance Hawley places on a small poetry award, the second, ‘Vashti in the Dark’, is on Hawley’s very brief earlier marriage to a deranged woman, and the third, ‘The Book of Pictures’, is of a youthful encounter that exposed Hawley to his own gay inclinations that for much of his life went unexplored. It’s good to see Delany’s poetic sensibility being brought up front once again particularly in his complex referencing of other literature (and the book is of course dedicated to Delany’s ex-wife, the poet Marilyn Hacker). It’s melancholy and indulgent but also accessible, and a very good character study of a very ordinary person. Dark Reflections is as far as ever from being vintage Delany, but still very enjoyable nonetheless.   PY

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