Dark Reflections by Samuel R. Delany really got under my skin. The book is a series of three novellas that work together but could each stand on their own. They all feature Arnold Hawley, a gay, African American poet who’s never made it big and just manages to get by on his salary as a adjunct professor in New York City. He’s never been in love, lives in a small rent controlled apartment, and has few friends outside of his books. For all intents and purposes so much of life has passed him by that I was left wondering what he had to write poems about. After all, he has failed to make a single true connection with another person in his entire life.
Yet, I was completely taken in by this character and his story. I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent with him and I feel the better for it. Maybe Samuel R. Delany intends to present the reader with a man who has nothing but literature, nothing but a love for language and the way it expresses ideas. What kind of life would this sort of man live? What could he have to offer the reader?
I cannot answer these questions after reading Dark Reflections but I must admit I am intrigued by them. That may be why I enjoyed the book so much.
Dark Reflections is slightly experimental in its structure. The three sections move backwards in time rather than forwards. We start with Hawley as an older man and go back to his college days in Boston and then New York. But having seen what will happen to Hawley, we are not really in a wiser position to look at the events in each section. We get his most of his life story in each section without dramatic irony. Instead, each section reads like it’s own novel. The author knows all of Hawley’s life and he presents it to us in three different ways, focused tightly on three different key points. The structure of the book gives us three points of view on the same character. These points of view do not really make us understand him any better, but they are all very interesting and they do finally make us connect with Hawley, which may be the point in the end. Hawley is a man who only really connects with language. He is also a character created solely by language. If there reader connects with him, the reader must do so with language.
There is a lot of heady stuff in Dark Reflections that probably won’t appeal to everyone. But I’d have to say that this is a book that will probably stay with me for a while. So, I’m giving Dark Reflections by Samuel R. Delany five out of five stars.
This review first ran on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. I’m in the process of migrating the reviews I want to save over to James Reads Books.
I have to admit that I have no memory of this book at all. I posted this review back in 2007 and have since forgotten the book altogether. From reading the review, which I’m glad I have a reason to do, the book sounds like something I would enjoy.