Onan Agonistes

I've been trying to figure out what somebody could do with the thirty bucks (plus tax) that they're asking for Harold Brodkey's word-processing product. My copy was no bargain for free. You could buy two pizzas and two sixpacks and have quite a party for that sum. You could wire your sweetie pie a nice bouquet by FTD. If movies were worth seeing, you could buy five tickets. There are all kinds of things you could do with the money, but the big loss is in time and energy—time that might have been spent on subgingival curettage or root canal work or study of feminist theory or whatever. Perhaps a mercifully brief description of The Runaway Soul will show just why its perusal would seem fitting for few others besides Harold Bloom, Gordon Lish, Keith Mano, and those who have puffed Harold Brodkey's "genius." There are two elements of the novel that I can bring myself to comment on. The first is substance; the second, style.

The Runaway Soul is a highly subjective Künstlerroman freighted with an elaborate psychological apparatus, a Freudian family romance, and a concentration of the hero-narrator's "growth," "genius," consciousness, and masturbatory sex life. The orphan Wiley Silenowicz, whose adoptive name suggests both wiliness and Silenus, relates somehow the tangled bafflements (he does not or cannot "tell a story") concerning his second...

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