The World is the Home of Love and Death by Harold Brodkey

I have had this book on my shelves for several years, unread because it just looks a bit forbidding. And it proved to be a challenging read.

It is a collection of short fiction, which was, I understand, Brodkey’s speciality. The stories are intense and demanding to read. He seems completely rigorous in his attempts to avoid cliche. So all his phrases are freshly minted. He would not say ‘freshly minted’, for example. He might say something like ‘newly brought before our sight’. When you pursue this approach over an extended piece of writing, it becomes tiring for the reader and, one assumes, massively time-consuming for the writer.

The overall effect is impressive, if a little baroque at times. One story is about the perceptions of a disabled child as he is bathed. The writer occupies his consciousness and the reader does, too, though in a rather clinical, disengaged sort of way.

Another piece is about a couple about to have sex and is a very detailed analysis and description of every touch and comment, deconstructed. Sustaining this intensity is brilliant, though it is not reading for entertainment, but reading in order to experience reality in a vicarious, but nonetheless fresh, manner.

Very good but felt, to this reader, like a brilliantly executed technical exercise rather than a reflection of felt and understood experience. 


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