Saturday, October 07, 2006

American Genius,A Comedy

After we've waited so long for a new novel by Lynne Tillman whose last novel No Lease on Life pulled the skin off the Lower East Side, American Genius, A Comedy from Softskull press is now out in the stores.
All I knew about this novel before now was that it, unlike Tillman's previous works, featured very long sentences. I had no idea until just this morning, when I read the bookforum review, that the novel made skin into its leaping-off point for meditations on history and the human condition. I'm pleased to see that my Aunt (yes, we're related) has written this new novel from the point of view of a former historian (and I was just talking to her yesterday about how the worst thing about being historian must be torturous process of editing footnotes!). This current historian is now a designer, fascinated by chairs.

According to Matthew Sharpe,

Magnificently, Lynne Tillman makes skin do what Herman Melville made boats do--contain multitudes. American Genius, though less macho, belongs in the same class as Moby-Dick and Gravity's Rainbow: encyclopedic novels about America and the world. Grand and minute, elegiac and hilarious, this book will also contradict anything anyone can say about it."

If that's true, it's best to take a look for yourself. It's been excerpted in Bomb magazine, and you can read a snippet online.
It's got a web-presence already, being blogged at books are pretty and Midnight Ambulette twice, actually. Earlier this year, Dennis Cooper was celebrating Lynne Tillman Day. And a fellow in Buffalo includes the new novel on his list of books the New York Times should review in comparison with what they have reviewed, which seems to be Phillip Roth and more Phillip Roth.

I'll have more to say about it after reading it, which I will do on the plane on my way to the American Studies conference in Oakland (about which I will surely blog). What I can say for now is this: Lynne Tillman has remained true to her vision as a writer of serious literature. In a world of "Chick Lit" and navel-gazing memoirs, t's not easy to remain true to a marginalized field in which women are even more notoriously marginalized by critics who are obsessed with boys. So the comparison made in the blurbs to boy-cult author, Thomas Pyncheon, delights me.
From what I know of her work, this novel will do what others have failed at: integrate personal reflection with the weight of American history. I look forward to it.

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