“I won’t always be here, and if I consider that, and regularly remind myself that I only have to be in a particular situation for an hour or two, whether I’m unhappy or not, I can manage it. I’ve been cold and miserable; I’ve been lost; deceived; I’ve been bored silly; drunk; my underpants have been wet from nervous agitation; the skin on my inner thighs has chafed to a fiery red from rubbing against wool; I’ve been robbed; fainted from shock; and I’ve been alarmed beyond words or stricken with fear hearing bitter words flare between friends in freakish eruptions of hatred in bizarre locations, since most sites are not right for confrontation, and when I have no right to speak and no involvement, except self-protection, I have become itchy, my skin a plane of heat, as if a match had been struck against it and my entire body set ablaze. But I was able to withstand it, only because I knew it would end.”
In the hypnotic, masterful American Genius, A Comedy, a former historian spending time in a residential home, mental institute, artist’s colony, or sanitarium, is spinning tales of her life and ruminating on her many and varied preoccupations: chair design, textiles, pet deaths, family trauma, a lost brother, the Manson family, the Zulu alphabet, loneliness, memory, skin—and what “sensitivity” means in our culture and society. A new edition of a contemporary classic, with an introduction by novelist Lucy Ives.
The narrative voice is manic, neurotic, self-generative, very smart, loopy, deeply vulnerable, closely (obsessively) observant, narcissistic, and eminently contemporary. It is also very funny. Flawed, beautiful, sacred, insane.
[Lynne Tillman] is my secular art angel.
American Genius is a masterpiece. The intricate sentences, which include the alternative or opposite possibilities raised by every topic and event, provide bewitching experiences of the ambiguities of experience, always as clear as crystal, even as they shatter the crystal into luminous shards.
If I needed to name a book that is maybe the most overlooked important piece of fiction in not only the ’00s, but in the last 50 years, [American Genius, A Comedy] might be the one.