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JOURNAL FROM ELLIPSIA by Hortense Calisher


by Hortense Calisher

Pub Date: June 15th, 1965
Publisher: Little, Brown

In the old days, when Hortense Calisher was a New Yorker regular, she used to delight her readers with sleek, witheringly bright tales of poor sophisticates or bumbling pseudo-bohemians. But in the last five years or so her style has tended towards the obscure, the droopingly symbolic, enmeshed with Jamesian frills, and other pretentious trappings. Her first novel, False Entry, was an overly ambitious effort, unhappily lost in political motifs and Southern baroque atmosphere. This one, Journal from Ellipsia, seems to be a spoof of science fiction, with elbow-poking suggestions of Huxley (Brave New World, After Many a Summer), as well as more than a few winks in the direction of academia. Miss Calisher is a very witty, playful and intelligent writer, and there are passages and even whole scenes here in which some quite funny things happen. But the novel as a whole makes little sense, and the plot is so disconnected, so impishly haphazard that one wonders if one is reading it in the proper sequence. The "hero" appears to be a visitor from another planet who gets mixed-up in a variety of earthly and/or unearthly affairs— one says and/or since the "setting" is virtually indeterminate. Perhaps, with all of Miss Calisher's fond puns on physics, philology, anthropology and philosophy, the principle of indeterminacy is the theme of her novel. Certainly, the sex-war as she presents it, partakes of just that kind of ambiguity, and her characters— appearing, disappearing, or merging one with the other— are never in reliable focus. No doubt behind all this is a profound statement on the follies of contemporary life and the scientific ethos. The total effect, alas, is utter mystification.