THE YEAR OF SILENCE by Madison Smartt Bell


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Bell's love/hate affair with New York continues in this mosaic novel in which the central event--an overdose death--is physically central, occurring halfway through the book; what comes before is oblique antecedent, and what comes after is freighted postmortem. A Manhattan illustrator, Marian, dies a solitary and lonely death, having sabotaged an iffy affair and feeling herself more and more adrift. Weber, her lover, and Crystal, her friend, have already lost Marian in a way--more involved in the Manhattan loft-and-cocaine culture than with her--and her death has a greater impact on the semi-anonymous with which New York teems: cops, derelicts, neighbors. Once more, as with Bell's other recent novels (Waiting for The End of The World, 1985; and Straight Cut, 1986), the determinedly noir atmosphere and anesthetized stylistics--a world of drugs and the New York Post and seedy Latin neighborhoods--seem uncertain about what to celebrate: that self. same scuzziness or the good little people of the city not questing after rapid sensation? This ambivalence turns Bell into a fictionalizing Village Voice journalist--the treacly earnestness, the collar-up hard pose--and gives a New York painted by number, always in somber tones. New York is possible as a contemporary, chromatic fictional subject (Gaddis' JR or Joseph McElroy's otherwise flawed Women and Men are examples), but Bell's approach is strictly fogbound and drear. Hackneyed, despite all its postmodernist cool-boy turns.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1987
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin