Monk Reviews Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

For years I’ve been told that DHALGREN is an experimental novel, that it’s maybe not the best first book to read by Delany, that lots of people start it but few finish it. I started reading it like seven years ago and then got bored and put it down. Then a friend said they were reading and finished it. Then my boo started reading and finished it, and wanted desperately for me to finish it so we could talk about it.

Whatever transpired between my first trying to read DHALGREN (stopping somewhere around 150-200 of its 800 pages), and picking it up the second time altered my perceptions on my initiation into its world. For hearing Delany was this writer of pervy weird and complex scifi fantasy and picking up DHALGREN,which has no overt scifi tropes, as my introduction to his writing, I found myself perpetually waiting for something strange to happen, not realizing then the folly of holding this expectation.

The COVID-19 pandemic was getting serious, it was somewhere in late April or May, with spring expanding as the sun stood higher and longer in the sky. Laid off and beholden to no schedule, I would lay on the roof where I live and read 20 or 50 pages at a time, till I finally got to the end. It was good to read after imbibing some tree. It was good to read about people making due in a malaised, regular city on its own, while living in a time where the gangster klansmen of our government made it abundantly clear they weren’t about to do SHIT for the people in this pandemic. I would read through scenes and come back to reality noting how quickly a city falls to disrepair. This abandonment and living through it has been the subject of my own fiction long before encountering Delany’s. And for all this, it was real nice to take a lonnnnng walk through Dhalgren.

I’m not sure why it’s hailed as experimental. You just have to make sure you pay close attention to how the narrator narrates.

Maybe you should also have some context about uprisings and counter culture in the 1970s, for a book published in 1974.

I’m inclined to say DHALGREN makes an apt companion with The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, and definitely a traveling companion for lonesome sojourns, physical or internal.