ON WINGS OF SONG by Thomas M. Disch


Email this review


Before it goes haywire--and does it ever--Disch's semi-sci-fi novel is of vivid, awful interest. It's beyond the year 2000, and the United States is asunder, with armed checkpoints between states and general anarchy. In Iowa, where it's relatively peaceful but brutally repressive, Daniel Weinreb grows up chafing at the restrictions of the day, chiefly the discouragement of any music but hymns and patriotic songs. Music, it seems--and singing in particular--is the preliminary means by which one can ""fly"": actually leave the body and freely ply the air as a ""fairy."" In Iowa and much of the Midwest this is illegal. After Daniel spends some time in prison for delivering a banned Minneapolis newspaper (ads for musical shows and flying apparatus in it), he gets out and meets Boa Whiting, daughter of a local grandee; they marry, and in New York, on their honeymoon, register at a sort of motel for would-be singers/fairies. Boa, lifting her voice, manages to break out and fly--but Daniel can't. The rest of the book chronicles his life, flightless, waiting for Boa's return in a grim, future New York. Without much money, he spends his time in the company of bodybuilders, ""phonies"" (fake Negroes: ""faux-noirs""), and castrati opera singers: bel canto opera finally provides him with the ""endless, seamless inebriation of song"" required of flight. The dandyism of these final chapters is fairly dreadful; Disch can get very precious indeed, throwing up one filigreed correspondence between music, flight, Christianity, and art after another. But until it's frittered away by connoisseurship, the book is sharp and scary stuff in a futuristic, fable-like vein.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1979
Publisher: St. Martin's