MYSTERIES OF MOTION by Hortense Calisher


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A dense and florid pseudo-philosophical novel, poked into a comparatively neat and bleakly jarring sci-fi frame: four American neo-luminaries, one young stowaway, and a pregnant Iranian (along with some barely-glimpsed others) are encapsulated in a Star Trek-type space vehicle on its way to an American space station. Lift-off, however, will not occur for some time--not until after what seem like light years of background on the major passengers. There's industrialist Jack Mulenberg, for whom "this trip is transportation like any other. . . he expects to be delivered." Mulenberg desperately craves black journalist Veronica Oliphant, whose "ebony oval" of a head "contains a brain of worth. . . which still has its own purpose, undefined." And Veronica has been married (falsely, it seems) to passenger Wolf Lievering-Cohen--a "tortured archangel" who is treated to some of Calisher's wooziest prose: "His innocence. . . wasn't childish but desert dry, absolute. Fatality had picked him clean." There's also William Wert, an old-style diplomat married to two Iranian women, both named Soraya, one of whom is aboard. Plus: young "Mole" Perdue, whose father betrayed this mission, and whom Mole will betray in turn; and Tom Gilpin, a philosopher lobbying for "the people of earth." Calisher follows each of these people--in past and present--through whorls of obscuring, portentous, glutinous verbiage, strangling the life out of the major characters. The story-lines are only dimly visible: Veronica's travels and lovers, and a bomb-ticking parting from a half-brother; Wert's acquisition of his wives, a legacy from an ancient Iranian potentate; Gilpin's paddling through vast seas of thought; an assassination and diplomatic palaver. Only the spaceship comes intermittently alive here--a scramble of missed signals, a surreal telecast of chatting anchormen from Earth, a cornucopia of eerie vistas and grimly humorous gadgetry. The rest, unfortunately is, like Calisher's other recent fiction, a pretentious morass of talking heads and overbearing prose.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1983
ISBN: 0385184069
Page count: 534pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1983


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