American Genius, A Comedy

Author: Tillman, Lynne

Publication Date:

February 2019

Pages:

384

Original language and publisher

English | Soft Skull

Territories Handled

World excl. English North America

Genre

Literary Fiction

American Genius, A Comedy

Author: Tillman, Lynne

Synopsis

“If Jane Austen were pulled along a post-modern highway into the 21st century, forced to shed her fixation on marriage being the ultimate happy ending, the resulting novel might read a little like this.” — Ruby Brunton, Cleveland Review of Books

“Tillman gives us a mind hilariously on fire with compensatory distractions, bristling with facts that may not help at all . . . The woman’s mind spins, and with it a voice that’s ardent and ironic, knowing and oblivious, repetitive and contradictory . . . What kind of ‘comedy’ is this? . . . The comedy, surely of a sort of late modernism, familiar from Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard: novelists whose narrators simply can’t be quiet, but find themselves yammering away, the brain always buzzing, dry lips smacking and teeth clacking as their stories and theories and opinions come tumbling out . . . American Genius, A Comedy was timely in 2006, and still feels queasily of our moment.” — Brian Dillon, 4Columns

American Genius, A Comedy is a novel of digression. Refusing linear plot for the meandering structure of recollection, the book takes the form of an stream-of-thought monologue delivered by a former American historian residing in a mysterious, clinic-like setting that might be a sanatorium or an artist’s retreat but might also be something more sinister. In slippery paragraphs always on the edge of incoherence, we hear about the narrator’s interest in baths, textiles, underarm waxing, the quirks and habits of most of her co-patients, and the history of slavery. A portrait of excessive interiority.” TANK Magazine

“If you’re looking for a book to really just get lost in, this re-release of Lynne Tillman’s dense, winding, frantically brilliant novel is a good bet. Notice I didn’t say safe bet, because there’s little that’s safe within these pages. Instead, you’ll find the profane, twisted, knife edge-sharp thoughts of a former historian who is meditating on everything from the concept of sensitivity to the Manson murders. And you’ll receive these thoughts in the inimitable literary stylings of Tillman, who goes places few other writers can even conceive of existing.” — Kristin Iversen, NYLON, 50 Best Books to Read This Year

“Tillman’s beautifully constructed sentences create their own propulsion, able to take a reader in any direction at any moment. From the opening pages, a singular consciousness emerges, both porous and radically isolated, and by stripping out most other elements, the book confirms the ultimate primacy of literary voice, of which this is a rare triumph.” — Lidija Haas, Vulture, 100 Most Important Books of the 2000s . . . So Far

Grand and minute, elegiac and hilarious, Lynne Tillman expands the possibilities of the American novel in this dazzling read about a former historian ruminating on her own life and the lives of others–named a best book of the century by Vulture.

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, and sensitive skin–and what “sensitivity” means in our culture and society.

Showing what might happen if Jane Austen were writing in 21st-century America, Tillman fashions a microcosm of American democracy: a scholarly colony functioning like Melville’s Pequod. All this is folded into the narrator’s memories and emotional life, culminating in a séance that may offer escape and transcendence–or perhaps nothing at all. This new edition of a contemporary classic features an introduction by novelist Lucy Ives.

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