Steve Erickson's Tour of the Black Clock

Mon May 3, 2010

I read this while giving an exam today. I had forgotten to bring anything to write with, and I was angry, for I was struck with what seemed to be an urgent thought about the book: that Dania’s dance was plainly derived from Slothrop’s V2 attraction. I found a pen at rest on a chalk sill, then scrawled out that and the rest of my increasingly irritated observations: The Man in the High Castle, etc.

While trying to figure just why the book irritated and disappointed me so much, I read Larry McCaffrey’s interview with Erickson in RCL:

Q. Your writing also seems more emotional. But I have sometimes felt like comparing your character Dania in Tours of the Black Clock to Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow because whenever Dania dances someone seems to die, whereas whenever Slothrop has sex with someone, a V-2 rocket lands there.

A. I wasn’t conscious of the similarity. In Tours of the Black Clock I apparently failed to make one particular clear. The real point of Dania’s dancing has to do with voyeurism and obsession and men transforming women into their fantasies. In the scene when the detective Blaine is out on the little house on the river, he finally meets Dania, after all the time he’s been watching and following her, and says to her that every time she dances, someone dies. And she says back, “Don’t you see, it could just as easily have had nothing to do with me. It could just as easily have had everything to do with you. You thought someone was dying every time I danced, but maybe that wasn’t it at all. Maybe someone was dying every time you watched me dance.”

But, you see, what gets me about this is that if this is the secret history of the twentieth century—the horrible imago—do we need Hitler to make us see? Couldn’t something a little less dramatic or hackneyed, as far as the alternate history trope goes, be more effective?

I’ve always felt like that there’s something I’m particularly attuned to in contemporary fiction that Erickson should be one of the main examples of, but his stuff has rarely worked for me.

(Another tidbit from the interview is Bataille’s opinion of Wuthering Heights as the “cruellest novel.” I suppose this must come from Literature and Evil, which I haven’t read in a while.)