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Spinning off from the Orpheus myth, Hoban (Pilgermann, 1983; Riddley Walker, 1982; Turtle Diary, 1976) offers a weird modern fable of a London writer's struggles with the quest for inspiration and for a constant, faithful, Eurydice. style love. The narrator is twice-published yet virtually unread novelist Hermann Orff, now working for Classic Comics while lamenting the loss of old flame Luise and vainly waiting for inspiration at the word processor. Desperate, Orff goes to the "Hermes Sound-ways" studio for electro-zap brain stimulation--with immediate results: over the next few days Orff receives periodic visits (hallucinations?) from the "eyeless and bloated" head of Orpheus ("covered with green slime and heavy with barnacles"), which retells the old myth in quirky, digressive detail. Meanwhile, despite the head's warnings that all love leads to "loss," Orff pursues a new paramour, Melanie Falsepercy. He also hops over to Holland, in search of the Vermeer portrait that's his vision of perfect womanhood. Eventually, after a small angina attack, a dear-John letter from Melanie, and increasingly opaque dialogues with "the Kraken" (a terror-symbol), Orff winds up inspired--writing a cartoon series for the backs of cereal boxes and open to a new "frequency" in women. Thanks to tidbits of literary-world satire and Alice in Wonderland silliness (the Orpheus head turns into a cabbage, a grapefruit--and gets eaten), an intrepid reader may feel encouraged to press on through this difficult, allusive mesh of myths, symbols, fantasies, and themes. But, to a greater extent than in previous Hoban obstacle courses, here the imagery and illumination finally don't seem quite worth the effort.
Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1987
ISBN: 0747559090
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1987


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