You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


(Science fiction author Bruce Sterling wrote an article in 1987 that defined "Sliptream" as those novels that incorporated elements of genre fiction into literary fiction. In other words, novels that at the time gave a sense of what it felt like to live in the late twentieth century, and could be even more descriptive of daily life now in the 21st. INTO THE SLIPSTREAM will take a look at some of these novels.)

While on a skiing vacation in France, a young London couple, Jack and Zoe Bennett, are caught in an avalanche. Jack, who has made it up a tree, digs Zoe out from under the snow. The event is devastating, and they fear that another avalanche is imminent. It's early morning and they are alone on the mountain. They walk back to the resort and find it deserted. Food remains set out on the kitchen counters, but no one is in sight. This sudden disappearance convinces them that the resort has been evacuated, as has the village, which is similarly deserted. Around this time I thought the point of Joyce's novel was what happens to people when they do not grow up watching the Twilight Zone, because it is not for another fifty pages, and various failed efforts to leave the village, that they confront the fact that they are almost certainly dead.

Joyce has more tricks up his sleeve than that. Some of the scares may be predictable, but they are frequent enough to keep this complex and thoughtful love story linked to the author's background in horror and fantasy. Several customer reviews have complained that Jack and Zoe are too ordinary, but surely that's the point. Their reactions, from experiments in high-end shopping to the guzzling of expensive wines, are exactly what I would expect ordinary people to do while waiting to see what comes after death. Others have accused the love story of sentimentality, and here I strongly disagree. By the final revelations, which, yes, you will probably guess a chapter or so before the end, the depth of the Bennett's love carried me much further into the mournful nature of Joyce's novel than I had expected given what seemed to such a slender premise.

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