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Women and Men

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Beginning in childbirth and entered like a multiple dwelling in motion, Women and Men embraces and anatomizes the 1970s in New York from experiments in the chaotic relations between the sexes to the flux of the city itself. Yet through an intricate overlay of scenes, voices, fact, and myth, this expanding fiction finds its way also across continents and into earlier and fu Beginning in childbirth and entered like a multiple dwelling in motion, Women and Men embraces and anatomizes the 1970s in New York from experiments in the chaotic relations between the sexes to the flux of the city itself. Yet through an intricate overlay of scenes, voices, fact, and myth, this expanding fiction finds its way also across continents and into earlier and future times and indeed the Earth, to reveal connections between the most disparate lives and systems of feeling and power. At its breathing heart, it plots the fugue like and field like densities of late-twentieth-century life. McElroy rests a global vision on two people, apartment-house neighbors who never quite meet. Except, that is, in the population of others whose histories cross theirs believers and skeptics; lovers, friends, and hermits; children, parents, grandparents, avatars, and, apparently, angels. For Women and Men shows how the families through which we pass let one person's experience belong to that of many, so that we throw light on each other as if these kinships were refracted lives so real as to be reincarnate. A mirror of manners, the book is also a meditation on the languages rich, ludicrous, exact, and also American in which we try to grasp the world we're in. Along the kindred axes of separation and intimacy Women and Men extends the great line of twentieth-century innovative fiction.


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Beginning in childbirth and entered like a multiple dwelling in motion, Women and Men embraces and anatomizes the 1970s in New York from experiments in the chaotic relations between the sexes to the flux of the city itself. Yet through an intricate overlay of scenes, voices, fact, and myth, this expanding fiction finds its way also across continents and into earlier and fu Beginning in childbirth and entered like a multiple dwelling in motion, Women and Men embraces and anatomizes the 1970s in New York from experiments in the chaotic relations between the sexes to the flux of the city itself. Yet through an intricate overlay of scenes, voices, fact, and myth, this expanding fiction finds its way also across continents and into earlier and future times and indeed the Earth, to reveal connections between the most disparate lives and systems of feeling and power. At its breathing heart, it plots the fugue like and field like densities of late-twentieth-century life. McElroy rests a global vision on two people, apartment-house neighbors who never quite meet. Except, that is, in the population of others whose histories cross theirs believers and skeptics; lovers, friends, and hermits; children, parents, grandparents, avatars, and, apparently, angels. For Women and Men shows how the families through which we pass let one person's experience belong to that of many, so that we throw light on each other as if these kinships were refracted lives so real as to be reincarnate. A mirror of manners, the book is also a meditation on the languages rich, ludicrous, exact, and also American in which we try to grasp the world we're in. Along the kindred axes of separation and intimacy Women and Men extends the great line of twentieth-century innovative fiction.

30 review for Women and Men

  1. 5 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Difficult for me to review this book after such a long journey with it, but I have an essay about the experience up with The Paris Review: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2... Difficult for me to review this book after such a long journey with it, but I have an essay about the experience up with The Paris Review: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    people matter people = matter people R matter people are the matter Most books you read. There are some, however, that read you. Women and Men read me, and found me lacking. Everything got an explanation: the difference is you pick some things to not explain. It began with a birth and a word: Breathe. In the beginning was the Word. You can live without breathing, you can't live without breath. Teach me, Jim Mayn, about special reincarnation, about the Choor Monster, the Anasazi Healer, the Hermit-Inve people matter people = matter people R matter people are the matter Most books you read. There are some, however, that read you. Women and Men read me, and found me lacking. Everything got an explanation: the difference is you pick some things to not explain. It began with a birth and a word: Breathe. In the beginning was the Word. You can live without breathing, you can't live without breath. Teach me, Jim Mayn, about special reincarnation, about the Choor Monster, the Anasazi Healer, the Hermit-Inventor of New York. Can you be both yourself and another? Your grandmother, the Navajo prince, Spence? But we do. We are. Angels of change, seeking human limit. Unearthed from a box of several hundred pictures received from my uncle two years ago, this is a photo of Ira and Margaret Dice on their farm in Atalissa, Iowa (pop. 311) - early 1900s. My paternal great-great grandparents stand in front of their farmhouse; long-shadowed late in the day and posing for a picture they don't look happy to take. I Breathe in, connect myself to them - I become them. I Breathe out and connect myself to my great-great grandchildren 100 years from now, become them. I am Jim Mayn from the past, Jim Mayn from the future. I have seen the joining of genders into one. I have experienced the special reincarnation. Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn - Dickinson Which is the journey, which the destination? But I've missed it. I know I have. I'm 200 pages from the end of this novel that isn't, this book that is like a literary toxin. I have a Word-infection that feels terminal; I am unable to complete the book because I both don't want it to end and because I know when it is done I will start it over again. And I'm not interested in reading anything else. It's my Infinite Jest loop. Women and Men and Women and Men and... ...there are many gods, and when we organize and rank them we go too far, we ask too much of them. I want to become a better reader, the attendant appropriate to this novel, a book without equal. for you are some earlier thing's future I am not worthy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    I will stake what literary capital I may possess upon the proposition that Women and Men is one of the ten (or five or twenty or whichever way you’d like to dice the decem or quintum honorarium) greatest novels of the twentieth century. “Greatest” gives some folks the squirms (there’s a tapeworm for that!). Here’s what I mean by it: Proust, Joyce’s two fat ones, a novel by Mann (take your pick), Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, The Recognitions (but why not J R as well?), Gravity’s Rainbow, I will stake what literary capital I may possess upon the proposition that Women and Men is one of the ten (or five or twenty or whichever way you’d like to dice the decem or quintum honorarium) greatest novels of the twentieth century. “Greatest” gives some folks the squirms (there’s a tapeworm for that!). Here’s what I mean by it: Proust, Joyce’s two fat ones, a novel by Mann (take your pick), Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, The Recognitions (but why not J R as well?), Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest. Feel free to flesh out your list with literary flesh as you feel compelled. What causes a novel to find itself on such a list? Einzigartigkeit. These are novel novels which have never and will never be repeated. They are that by which other novels are judged, which is what “canon” means. They are novels for which readers need training; to read which one must have some aspiration to reach out and beyond one’s capability and hone readerly skills. They are craft and art. “But” inserts our Interrogator, how can you say this and we capitulate knowing that more angels will become human before we may be satisfied. Be that as it may. I’ve made my stake. I’ve double checked my reading. What I would like to ask is, whither my musical analogy for this peculiar novel? What is the musical parallel along which Women and Men curves? And I think the question of its musical analogy is apt because McElroy has not painted a portrait or scene but has sculpted (shall we say, ‘composed’?) a multi-(read four)dimensional world. To Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen we shall turn. Why? Wagner’s Ring, four nights of sustained, unrelenting emotion, is composed in a musical language known as atonal. Not tonal. Does that mean we can call this music real noise? Not at all. Tonal composition (if you permit us to speak the language of amateur musicologist) provides for a home plate, somewhere whence one can return at the conclusion of musical adventures, a musical knowledge that as the final bombastic chord is struck we have come to rest, concluded, and break out into applause and ovations and shouts of “Bravo!” “Huzzah!” etc. Atonal composition has no home but meanders and staggers and rises and quiets itself in a never to be completed movement-quest within an infinite musical space and we know quietly within ourselves that the evening of music has been concluded when sounds have ceased but echo through a sustain within our trembling spirits, no bursting of soul completed which would allow us rest but rather a bursting with no cessation. [We hear the first chord of Das Rheingold as it plays itself for, by our watch, well over three minutes, not introducing us to the Rheinmaidens, but finding ourselves already (and always) among them, disturbed then by a strange figure at last.] We add, as a footnote (and a musicnote!), that Wagner added to our musical vocabulary a little function commonly called a leitmotif, a small musical phrase, an object, which repeats itself speaks itself and operates to tie together the score, the libretto, and the action upon the stage; a quilting point which constitutes the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk. What does this tell us about McElroy’s masterpiece, Women and Men? It is an atonal novel. We begin already among its world, “After all she was not sure what had happened, or when it had started” and concludes with a sustain, “He heard a motion along the surface of things. He thought he would stand here awhile.” The prose moves between these points often and usually always without a plate to call home but in its place an alloy (naturally occurring) plate from which two are turned into one onto a new home between earth and moon in future. Names, those anchors, are left for later pages as (meanwhile) we experience the world of each as they experience their worlds and the relations which they are (those angels) between women and men. We don’t know yet how to position ourselves when interrogated, one could say tortured into confessing, about what it is that we are about. About to what? (But if you call that writing real prose.) Wagnerian, too, are the frequent (re-)occurrences of objects which can only be called leitmotivs: the Wide Load, a tapeworm, Object Geometry, various forms of reincarnation, a colt pistol and its correlate double moon, Andrew Jackson, a disassembled Statue on Bedloe’s Island, the demon infested head hole of the Navajo Prince’s mother who comes back to life when he leaves, fragments of Navajo myth, a mother telling here son to go way but it was she that went away, Traces and their Windows, a Colloidal Unconscious, those Interrogators, locoweed, “women and men”. These literary objects form themselves into an articulated structure which can accommodate a multiplicity of small-scale meanings and which resist the translation of two questions into what might have been one answer no matter the threat of the Dreaded Modulus which would have us believe that we can turn one system into another as if they were naught but tables but we have already forgot the other answer. Atonal. Articulated structure of small-scale leitmotivs. But also we see both Wagner and McElroy refusing the materials of christian or olympic storydom and taking up instead the aboriginally germanic Nibelungenlied (Wagner) and Navajo Diné Bahane' (McElroy). [You find yourself pleased with that curvaceous parallel? our torturer threatens us with.] But, true, unlike opera of an earlier era the Wagnerian opera is a single piece of music with beginnings and endings hours from each other and nary a piece of fabric (read aria) detachable from the whole (one does not “do” a Wagner “recital”), McElroy’s atonal work finds itself articulated into such small-scale stories that can be read and enjoyed and bathed in in their separateness, but excepting when we know ourselves immersed in our beloved BREATHERS where there are no McElroy “recitals.” But as with our angels which are within us and are us these stories contain their relations with the whole, with both women and men and Women and Men even as they are not fully subsumed but an Interrogator who would have it that we know what this means, this which we have just said. We will leave them and their relations just as they may leave us as we are their relations themselves. We already know that we say this and with our newly discovered S.R. (Simultaneous Reincarnation, but mere Incarnation would satisfy many of us) is proven as you might find us in two places at the same time before: we submit the P.R. (Prior Review ). The structure in its wealth of articulations into small-scale thread-units may be followed where which we may could call a Nesting Of Angels, or NOAh shipping us off to what Grace Kimball would surely call a “Body-Self Readingshop” because as Larry has taught us, PRM, knowing he means People aRe Matter or people matter that we might conclude with our proposition that people are the matter, which is surely what will matter most we hear someone ask? __________ My first review :: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

  4. 4 out of 5

    George

    I interviewed Joseph McElroy here: https://thecollidescope.com/2021/04/0... "We read—the plural for the few as well as for the potential, the connected for the ostensibly disconnected—we read Women and Men, by we we mean you, by you we mean I, us, read it…. The we is not lost on us though perhaps it is lost on literature, for how many novels make use of this inclusive if not presumptive multitude? We, The Drowned is but one in which we the readers drown in a sea of stories with Danish sailors and I interviewed Joseph McElroy here: https://thecollidescope.com/2021/04/0... "We read—the plural for the few as well as for the potential, the connected for the ostensibly disconnected—we read Women and Men, by we we mean you, by you we mean I, us, read it…. The we is not lost on us though perhaps it is lost on literature, for how many novels make use of this inclusive if not presumptive multitude? We, The Drowned is but one in which we the readers drown in a sea of stories with Danish sailors and their families, but Women and Men, this “loose-strung grand opus,” is not as clear-cut as that. “‘We’? we ask.” Oui oui." You can read in full what is my longest review to date here (it was also the most difficult to write): https://thecollidescope.com/2021/06/0...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Women and Men seems to be the most ambitious novel ever written, anyway, it is the most ambitious one I’ve ever read. Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men: the women who are a section of the woman do not care f Women and Men seems to be the most ambitious novel ever written, anyway, it is the most ambitious one I’ve ever read. Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men: the women who are a section of the woman do not care for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But they who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices of the original man, they hang about men and embrace them, and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature – Plato, The Symposium. In a way Women and Men is an outspread exegetic commentary to this Plato’s sentence. Women and men each other’s axles, she felt on good days; each other’s future and frontier – Words, words, words… Grace is a sum of female origins or a female collective consciousness, fragmentary and illogical – a cosmic ovum waiting to be fertilized. She arched and farted like Mona Lisa if you really looked at her and moistly for good fruitarian measure. And angels are a sum of male origins – a male collective consciousness, possessive and smug – cosmic spermatozoids seeking their target. And she wasn’t getting any younger as the world turns, so your launch window gets smaller by the second until it’s maybe ten minutes wide if you want to launch to gain your desired orbit, because everything else is also moving in its directions and you won’t need a computer to process that stuff because women know. But whichever She it is that we relations raise into this window as a trial sacrifice, it was not consciousness alone we raised and targeted-for-Being, but the body she was becoming. Evolution of angel into human seemed illusion it seemed so slow at times. straight away Joseph McElroy turns Women and Men into a skein of metaphysical enigmas embellishing, on the way, a trivial day to day existence with absurd twists, preposterous quirks and trashy sexual rites. Elimination of dead matter in the brain both concentrated energies already present and opened gaps that let that energy jump and grow; the void left where internal body parts had been, set off kinetic potential uniting upper with lower. I believe Joseph McElroy just wants to eliminate dead matter in our brain and set our imagination free. The crap of the quotidian living accrues in our minds, intoxicating them, so we need to cleanse them from time to time like our bowels.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    Along the Curve of Our Resolve Joseph McElroy took a photo of America in 1977 and then, in the manner of Tristram Shandy’s father, took ten years to convert it into a panoramic painting or tapestry of modern life ("Oh cripes I thought this was gonna be in Technicolor"). He constructed an apartment building (a "multiple dwelling" or "articulated structure that gives play to a multiplicity of small-scale units"), populated it with multiple characters (including "multinational corporate selves" an Along the Curve of Our Resolve Joseph McElroy took a photo of America in 1977 and then, in the manner of Tristram Shandy’s father, took ten years to convert it into a panoramic painting or tapestry of modern life ("Oh cripes I thought this was gonna be in Technicolor"). He constructed an apartment building (a "multiple dwelling" or "articulated structure that gives play to a multiplicity of small-scale units"), populated it with multiple characters (including "multinational corporate selves" and a small cast of multi-racial players) and then devised "a multiplicity of small-scale acts" (some intransitive, some transitive, some real, some apparent, some causal, some miraculous, some repetitive, some disappearing) for them to dramatize. The narrative is hardly linear, if at all, perhaps a curve, a graph, which plots the movement of these variously "parallel and intersecting populations" , parallel in the sense that Jim Mayn and Grace Kimball, two contrapuntal protagonists, never meet, although they live within floors of each other in the same building and are otherwise only one degree of separation apart. I found a sub-let in the building and spent five intense days there, getting to know and love them all (even if I do have my favourites). The point is not the length of the novel, but whether you like these characters and their stories. Their stories are told unconventionally. But so they are in real life. We don’t learn about people in strict, chronological sequence. Why should we insist on it in fiction? Knowledge and narrative and progress, then, now, and in the future, are incremental and accretive, achieved by tentative successive questioning and prodding. There is not one narrator, but as you would expect, a multiplicity, giving us a multiplicity of perspectives (yes, inevitably, there is some repetition ["repetition with increments"] as points of view change, but that is the point). Like the stories told by Jim’s grandmother, Margaret ("These were all dreams that came via her" and "I leave the history to you"), they are "stories that often did not finish and were easy to understand [Ed: well, most of them, but not because the novel is long], he thought; stories that passed the time. Stories that he retold himself to remember in new form, across the gap between what she had said and what she had not." When two characters encounter each other, "two stories meet... [and] maybe slide together." Stories become histories, some credible, some incredible, some authorised, some unauthorized, some true, some false. It depends who is doing the telling. Or the asking. For the questions you ask can determine or shape the answers. The novel is concerned with both political history and personal history. Three political issues particularly matter to McElroy; all involve misrepresentation, deceit, untruth, the gap between representation and fact, between appearance and truth. New seaborne arrivals to America are greeted by a statuesque woman who proclaims "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free", yet the man behind her (in the words of Lou Reed, but see also Paul Auster’s "Leviathan") has been just as likely to piss on them (e.g., on a statuesque social studies teacher), as he has also done on America’s indigenous Indians. Secondly, the Government lies to its people, witness the 1960 U-2 incident in which a US spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, while allegedly on a NASA weather reconnaissance mission. Thirdly, the CIA facilitated the illegal assassination (i.e., murder) of the democratically-elected Socialist Chilean President Allende in 1973. There is a gap between histories, the official and the truthful. McElroy asks us to take a breather, so that we can resuscitate the truth, our own and that of the world around us ("take some time for yourself, you know, a breather"). America has become paranoid and schizophrenic, prone to passive-aggressive behavior and psychotic reactions. The United States of America has become the "United Conditions of America". Like Pynchon, McElroy is compelled to diagnose the body electric, so that, healed, it might sing again. Many of the 33 chapters involve questions, enquiries, interrogatories, interrogation (Who? What? When? How?). The narrator's voice is not so much omniscient as omniquisitional. The interrogator isn’t identified. It could be a federal agent (the fraternal Ray Spence?), multiple interrogators or an "interrogator of dreams". However, there are occasions when it seems to be History or Time itself (the Future?) ("Are these words that ask, that interrogate, are they part of words to come?") or perhaps just a Post-Modernist narrative device ("Who is this We?"), an Implied Reader (he is "part of us and we him"). Is McElroy watching, gazing at us, Venus-like (1), while we watch him at work? It doesn’t really matter. People matter. People = matter. People R matter. And if people are matter, and matter is mass, and mass can be transformed, then people can be "transformed". Subject matter or plot device? "T" for TRANSFER, "T" for TRANSFORM, "t" for future....plus (+): "The older transformation equations got us through ethereal obstacles as if they existed or plotted our inequalities up L slopes and round R curves." Does the "R" stand for "revolves" or does it represent a "revolution"? ("Wheels, rotation, motion," revolution?) Does the wind curve in its journey around the Earth? Is change circular? Why is it that when we change, we "turn" into something else? Does the Future arrive not so much by linear evolution, but by mapping out a revolutionary curve? Yet, it must always be people who will transform, for we are the vehicles of history. We do history, we tell our histories. History is the tale of our transformation and change. According to the Navajo nation, the First Woman and the First Man were transformed from two ears of corn, the one white, the other yellow. They subsequently have a child, Changing Woman (a mother’s labor gives rise to a division, hence "the division of labor",) who in turn gives birth to the Hero Twins (who slay the Monsters, but that’s another story). This is the mythic past. The mythic future involves a transformer plate that will transform two people into one and transport them to a frontier colony out in Earth-Moon space. To be honest, I was less interested in the "mystic fictions", the "Trace Windows" and this SF twist than the transformation of two into one as the basis of a new relation or relationship. McElroy gives us infidelities, suicides, disappearances, estrangements, separations, relinquishments and divorces. There are distances, gaps, voids between people. Things come between us, objects ("Look it’s all in Hegel, the evolution and obstacle quest of the spirit, that’s what you’re doing in here.") Relationships need to be revitalized, not just between lovers or spouses, but parents and children, and between siblings. Contrast the Separatist philosophy of the Feminist Grace Kimball who conducts Body-Self Workshops for women, until she decides she wants to make money out of men as well, at which point she becomes the Priestess of Le Swing and the Doctor of Open Marriage: "Keep the sexes apart for the time being, just a working model, teach ‘em the wings they fly ain’t only yr joint wings twain bonded in the ground of birth." [There’s a funny exchange where a woman asks, "Where did the sexes first split?" Another responds, "The Paramecium", which is not as you might expect a Greek myth as retold by Plato.] The real quest in "Women and Men" is not the separation of the sexes, but the "rearrangement of women and men", the promotion of the ability of two people to overcome obstacles, to reach "across the gap" , to converge in a relationship, to become one, not in terms of physical matter, or necessarily metaphysically: "All things to him, she was"; "I want you to stay the night"; "Can we go back and make love?"; "We make a good couple"; "I love her more now than ever"; "You liked the idea of me, you know you did"; "I love her looks and her humor"; "She is funny and beautiful." McElroy, meticulous, gentlemanly, charming and affectionate, has written a "warm though sexist novel" . It deserves to be loved. You could learn how to love it, if you approach it the right way. Disclaimer: "I am subject to factual error. It is the story of my life." FOOTNOTES: (1) "Rokeby Venus" (also known as "The Toilet of Venus" and "Venus at her Mirror") by Diego Velázquez: Wikipedia: "The Venus effect is a phenomenon in the psychology of perception, named after various paintings of Venus gazing into a mirror, such as Diego Velázquez's 'Rokeby Venus', Titian's 'Venus with a Mirror', and Veronese's 'Venus' with a mirror. "Viewers of such paintings assume that Venus is admiring her own reflection in the mirror; however, since the viewer sees her face in the mirror, Venus is actually looking at the reflection of the painter." SOUNDTRACK: (view spoiler)[ Thelonious Monk - "(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance (With You)" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9odej... Billie Holiday - "(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance (With You)" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djSlIX... Bing Crosby - "(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance (With You)" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH5gmt... Sarah Vaughn - "The Nearness of You" Black and White Version (with lyrics, but slight skip in first verse): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPiscu... Colorised Version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV61Gr... Lou Reed - "Lou Reed - Dirty Blvd." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWz60e... "Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I'll piss on 'em. That's what the Statue of Bigotry says. Your poor huddled masses, Let's club 'em to death And get it over with and Just dump 'em on the boulevard." Lou Reed - "Tatters" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK1rVF... "Some couples live in harmony, Some do not. Some couples yell and scream, Some do not... Some people wait for sleep To take them away While others read books endlessly Hoping problems will go away... I'm told in the end That none of this matters. All couples have troubles And none of this matters..." Lou Reed - "Ecstasy" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rp-5e... "I see a child through a window with a bib And I think of us and what we almost did. The Hudson rocketing with light. The ships pass the Statue of Liberty at night." "Our little thing is lying here in tatters." (hide spoiler)]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    Joseph McElroy's Women and Men is a difficult, beautiful, and astounding book, astonishing. Those final adjectives ought to be clear enough and the prior will be all too quickly misunderstood. 'Difficult' cannot be understood pejoratively as Franzen et al would have it (and for whom Women and Men would fit their bill for difficulty and target for ridicule far better than JR albeit giving them a target even less recognized than Mr Gaddis) for is not calculus 'difficult' and do we not rejoice ever Joseph McElroy's Women and Men is a difficult, beautiful, and astounding book, astonishing. Those final adjectives ought to be clear enough and the prior will be all too quickly misunderstood. 'Difficult' cannot be understood pejoratively as Franzen et al would have it (and for whom Women and Men would fit their bill for difficulty and target for ridicule far better than JR albeit giving them a target even less recognized than Mr Gaddis) for is not calculus 'difficult' and do we not rejoice every time we read a story in our morning paper about underfunded, underperforming schools putting students through the rolls of a calculus course and those students find that the exertion, the grasping of calculus that most difficult of high school subjects is often what gives them the greatest intellectual pleasure, the kind of pleasure according to Aristotle which far outstrips other forms of pleasure? Indeed, Women and Men is difficult in its demanding upon its readers, a demand that we also take up imaginative pen that we also engage in storying and sentencing and (day)dreaming and that we show ourselves as talented, talented at sentencing and (day)dreaming (for James Mayn does not dream, not at night). Not many years past I was not that talented reader and clearly today I remain less talented than the master Joseph McElroy whose sentences are as tightly controlled and demonic as anything this side of Magister Gass, but I have come far in my schooling, far enough that I can see the cloud's lining if not the whole of the cloud, its far side yet dimmed by shadow. David Foster Wallace has said, and truly so, that much of experimental, innovative fiction is just not so very much fun to read and he could very well have had something like Women and Men in mind which it would be of great interest to me to learn of Mr Wallace's opinion and familiarity with sir McElroy -- but can anything be as much pure fun to read as Infinite Jest except perhaps that 'Antichrist' Mr Leyner? -- and one will have to sharpen up this 'fun' replacing it with 'pleasure' which is certainly more nuanced and won't equate to 'an entertaining 'read'' because some pleasures are of a higher order than fun. What is pleasurable in Women and Men is not a jumble of postmodern hi-jinx but the world of a mythology experienced in its creation, that writing which is a thinking and thoughts which are only coming together, not yet formed -- a myth told to James Mayn by his grandmother Margaret about an East Far Eastern Princess from Choor pursued on her homebound trek East by a Navajo Prince (did the Navajo have Princes?) and James retelling of this story to his daughter Flick or to his barmates Ted and Mayga but overheard by a nemesis/ alter ego Spence in bars across the country while in its retelling the myth gets added to because Mayn comes to the present out of the future which makes 1977 somehow his past. It is the telling of the story and not the story as polished and refined, handed to us as a finished product for consumption, ready to be turned into a film script -- Herr Gass' quip that a story is what is extracted from a novel in order to make a movie (extract it and make your movie and what's left is what makes the novel.) How to read, how reading happens is something McElroy can still teach us, we are not yet done with the learning of our craft. Only perhaps Finnegans Wake is more difficult and its century only 12 years old-- Ulysses we have been reading for three generations and with that depth of reading experience is not out of reach for us who take a small taste of humility and learn from our foregoing readers, but for Women and Men we are (in the word of friend James) 'untethered', a daunting position to be in if not a charge of freedom. Will Women and Men generations hence be only as daunting as Joyce's first masterpiece? I am pleased to contribute to its reading but I will must needs step aside as greater readers than I recall and pay heed to this which may or may not be of the great works of the twentieth century. More than a plot summary or a role call of its grand cast of characters a review of Women and Men ought to address in some manner the means and attitude and approach required for its reading, a setting of expectations. Set your expectations high, it is a difficult book, it will not lead you by the hand (nor leave your floundering); parsing every sentence will dash your hopes; tracking every pronoun to its antecedent will crush your resolve; demanding clarity before we have done the work, before the text has been allowed to breath in its realm of not-yet-formed thought, will frustrate your desire; sentence by sentence, one word followed by another word, the linearity of writing and its reading is precisely the constraint which thought is struggling against, that the before and after of words on a page do not allow creative-mythologizing thought the fullness of its realm demanded -- it is too soon, Women and Men comes before that time, it comes all at once in its simultaneity. And here I think is the crux of what one will come to love in McElroy's -- at first maddening -- prose, its urge toward the simultaneity of experience, memory, and thought before the formation of discrete propositions. This simultaneity (which within the novel appears under the rubric 'Simultaneous Reincarnation' or S.R, a 'new' reincarnation), for its explication, one searches for analogy and ends in the world of music, that sister medium in which the before-and-after, the this then this then this, is constitutive. One thinks first of the fugues of Bach as we begin to learn what it is to parse McElroy's syntax, that we are not reading simple propositions strung together one following another, but are hearing themes repeated and varied, not so much a melody of a line of poetry with its rhythm, but themes which on their own may be dull or opaque but when set together and stacked one upon another and played all at once -- did not Bach's greatest fugue (which one?) consist of as many as eight (or was it just six?) themes played simultaneously, written for harpsichord, two hands? -- creates a harmony equaled only by the heavens themselves, a harmony to be sure thoroughly cut with dissonance for it is the harshness in the ear which drives McElroy's prose. The themes of the fugue and their variation, their repetitions in new configurations, are not introduced with a full letter of recommendation but appear on the stage of our reading and are given their time to breath and come to speech, to recommend themselves to us as they mature and develop into a full, more complete thought. Only much later, often do we learn that we have already met this character, or finally receive his name. But not just the fugue, but the Symphony, the Opera (we have present a little opera by the name of Hamletin from the pen of a Chilean woman, which score is of some importance to an occurrence of international intrigue concerning elements in the post-Allende Chile) may serve as clues to the structure of our book. How many voices simultaneously did Mozart say he could stage? and we think also of Wagner's leitmotif which often perhaps is not so much 'leit' but fully macguffin (is that not what 'wide load' is all about?) But the music analogy here is not that of melody, but of theme and variation, of harmony and dissonance, of repetition, a symphonic wholeness chaotic perhaps in its parts, but controlled and whole. The quote McElroy says he meditated upon while writing Women and Men, a recurring theme in its variations: “an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units” -- has its source in a book called Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered. 'Small' is misplaced in reference to this 1192 page doorstop in which a Chilean economist and his wife Clara play a significant part, but which also becomes 'eco' and thus 'ecology' (with a botanist naming locoweed, a biologist tracking wild javelina with scent glands in their rear, or the threat of a strip mining and processing operation turning coal into 'natural' gas, and the debates (endless) about new 'weathers' between one Hermit Inventor of New York and an Anasazi Healer) and James Mayn's friend Larry who has developed an obstacle geometry but who seems to be an economics student and chews over equations involving 'people,' 'are,' and 'matter' in various configurations. And there is the apartment building to which James Mayn has returned after his divorce, itself an articulated structure which can accommodate a multiplicity of small-scale dwelling units in one of which resides the other half of the novel, one Grace Kimball who runs a Body-Self workshop out of her apartment (Grace and James never meet, being two distinct nodal points around which our cast of characters are weaved.) "An articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units" should perhaps be taken as McElroy's definition or articulation of The Novel, for Women and Men is that rare beast the novel novel, the new articulation of experience set down on the page in long format, a unity which is the articulation of a multiplicity of small-scale units. Women and Men sits within the realm between the modern novel and its continuation in the postmodern, jointing those two great lives of the novel. It is of a scale of The Recognitions but also works on memory as does Proust; is playfully meta-fictive (with shifts between first, second, and third persons including a 'we' voice and a mysterious 'Interrogator' which may be you, dear reader) yet epic as its title-reminiscent 19th century relative War and Peace. It is not, to clarify that persnickety misunderstanding which runs rampant in our Internets, a novel of stream-of-consciouness, but it is fully cognizant of that technique and in fact develops it into a full world, limited not to the single stream of thought and impressions of an isolated subject, but of intersubjective memory and experience articulated by an only sometimes intrusive third-personness, a stream of planetary consciousness perhaps. But no, it is not that, for someone much more versed than I will be required to parse how our point of view shifts and rearranges itself associatively. It remains the question "Is it worth it, these eleven hundred ninety two pages?" I say yes, yes I said. But not lightly. I hesitate to recommend this book to any but the most stalwart and well trained and talented readers. Trepidation is justified. Myself, I came too early to such masterworks as Mason & Dixon and squandered that opportunity. Women and Men may be at the end, at the extreme telos, of your reading list. I do not recommend this book to you but I do most urgently recommend you to it; it needs its reading, its testing -- shall it become a must-be-read or will it remain an obscurantism for those of us dwelling on the periphery of our literary tradition? __________ My second review :: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... __________ Unrepresentative and selected sentences, two in number. The opening paragraph of the first chapter, “division of labor unknown”: After all she was not so sure what had happened, or when it had started. Which was probably not a correct state to be in, because what had happened made the biggest difference in her life so far. Hours of life that worked her back full to breaking of pain and drained it of its work when the back of her child’s head with a slick of dark hair and its rounded shoulders gave her that last extra push to free its arms still held inside her. She would tell her husband later--she knew she would--and she did tell him. She told her husband and he told others for weeks afterward. Also he had his own side to tell. She loved his excitement. From “THE HERMIT-INVENTOR OF NEW YORK, THE ANASAZI HEALER, AND THE UNKNOWN ABORTER,” p887 (aka, one of those infamous Breathing sections): It is coincidence that our relative-diarist-historian M. H. Mayne (who records what anxiety Jackson’s adopted son caused by his note-of-hand debts--he in fact even “charged” a young female slave, according to Alexander, the only person in the family who actually read the diaries--though Jim felt them in his hands unopened tightening that sequence of undone duty, newspaper, father, hometown, and the further knowing of his mother’s recoverable personality and biography; and M. H. Mayne, because of his connections) was thus secret custodian of the incognito Morgan who, if he is not related to the Alsatian mathematician who en route from Mexican War to California Gold Rush was nearly murdered in the desert by the mestizo bearer of what came to be the Mayne family pistol, must be such collateral to the Alsatian as to compel other parallels, ours, Margaret’s, Spence’s, straight or warped if not worse for wear and non-wear, to forks as curious as that given us by our alternative Thunder Dreamer who we think also brought the New York Hermit’s Anasazi weather friend a Colt pistol that had found its way not absolutely curse-proof from the upshot of the Mexican War at Chapultepec where the father of that dying white settler whom the Thunder Dreamer said spoke a bit like one of the Germans of the Plains had begotten his son unexpectedly and darkling upon a Saxon-blond war correspondent so subtly male, or so beautifully so, as to reveal her female center to the blind passion of the in-fact-doomed man only in the strange retrospect of the next day when as a Winfield Scott volunteer he realized at the moment of dust and staccato voices when he was hit by a Mexican ball that the nape of his exquisitely frightened lover’s neck the night before had been a girl’s.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    You cannot take the engineer out of the writer; you cannot take the integration out of life. There was a time when I cross-referenced a Gravity's Rainbow relation of sunset, radiation dynamics of reddening shades versus the bloody westward draw over sea and foundered land. Whether 'twas a singular page or a singular thought of relative Pynchon's or my own, it didn't matter. What did was a figuring that in the duel between word and constant, equation and verse, mathematical flow of form and memori You cannot take the engineer out of the writer; you cannot take the integration out of life. There was a time when I cross-referenced a Gravity's Rainbow relation of sunset, radiation dynamics of reddening shades versus the bloody westward draw over sea and foundered land. Whether 'twas a singular page or a singular thought of relative Pynchon's or my own, it didn't matter. What did was a figuring that in the duel between word and constant, equation and verse, mathematical flow of form and memorial firing of relation, I preferred story to solution. Plot pulse. Theme pulse. Word pulse. Take your heartbeat as you wish and trust the rest to follow. I no longer seek out a laboratory for my contribution to society, but that is a lie if metaphor is your friend and faithful fret, for what is creation by those who cannot help it if not a discovery, bred in light if not in number, boxed in bone if not in glass, lethal potential all the same? The matter is we, for the longer one spends in the statistical mists the longer the system is we. I would speak plainly if I could, but every parse parts into the infinite stream, one for you and you and whatever your existence conjures at the differential moment of my saying "female", "atheist", "white", a shortened guarantee for each delineation of other. I find my place in the wave of things; mind your self less than the water. ...until the meaning of her day approached, and she almost had it Ten years ago I studied the weather. Nowadays I tutor English. In the repetitions of the Odyssey, unobserved until explanation necessitated, I found the tidal aid of memory. In the water margin of Women and Men, coastal operative over a denser complexity than formula could ever hope to approximate, I reconciled my seventh grade failure to calculate the low pressure curve to my appreciation of what goes in to the wind, the sun, the snow. It is raining today. How many breathers made it happen? Politics, economics, rhyme, rhythm, calculate. Condensing is control is impossible without a correlating decrease in respect, climate change in charts, unhappiness in soap operas. We cannot comprehend the mechanics of earthquakes we fail to confirm our "science" of poli and econ we continue to kill each other and ourselves. We fear. Then we contain something, and we fear more. Flick said anyone could have predicted the bomb: it was just bigger. We could put forth the planetary motion of people as safeguard, obliging ourselves with acknowledgement of temporary status yet not really believing we'll ever find anything better. I could track down ever reference to anything ever within the bindings of this particular tome, but that is not a natural commitment of anything else I have ever read. My closure breeds in different ways, and until the void I let it lie. ...for if life is an education it must be to find out what you are already doing because can't avoid in some way Doing. If you dream in sci-fi, are you innovative or simply giving the finger to Freud in the manner of one of many dreaded "genre" style constructions? No tech or politics in fiction for literature's sake, but that electricity wasn't made on the backs of philosophers, nor that forty hour work day. Whatever your comfortable level of luddism or adherence to Thoreau (two years on Walden two miles from home in brought back his laundry every weekend for his mother to do), you are a set of the system. Contemplate the creeded words of Hegel and co., but understanding's a nominal thing if existence is only respected in parts. Pretend as you may, you're not dead yet. ...In my keeper's multiple dwelling there are many Mansons. Not so appealing now, is it. ...call nationalism just another brand of competition which is death next to cooperation... Does that get your goat? ...to a neutral economist who says in the long run "it" evens out, and to Lord Keynes who said In the long run we are dead... You should know my stance on free market capitalism versus a living wage by now. ...and now he works steadily against the death penalty ("against death as a penalty")... I was not leading you astray with my hopeful view of We in the beginning. Only my definition may differ, for a lack of a considered life after the croak has made me all the more keen on the hearing of now. All for one, one for all, and heaven help those sputtering 'but'. ...people are the obstacles we choose and by a system that is always double we are inclined toward these obstacles in order by some last-second correction like multiple-reentry missiles to veer away around them at risk yet with awful chance, too, if we can find the way in to the risk of our lives... If I can do it, so can you. All of this speaks. In many bodies or, as our leaders have said, on an individual basis. Speaks also, we understand, in this "we" that we have heard. What is it? some community? Ours. Operating less than capacity then suddenly also beyond itself. So that in the zone between we have this voice of relations—is that it?—of possible relations too. There is no we in I on a linguistic case level. So come, tell me the familiar anew; on a level of life, we'll find it yet.

  9. 5 out of 5

    alex

    *3rd reading update* "What I've always been trying to find was an adequate sentence and passage that could suggest what it is like to be fully alive, and that means to be thinking and feeling and moving even in a physical way that could be conveyed upon the page." -Joseph McElroy in conversation with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm This is my favorite novel. The competition is not close. Is it hyperbolic to say that in W&M McElroy comes close to actually realizing Heidegger's goal of approx *3rd reading update* "What I've always been trying to find was an adequate sentence and passage that could suggest what it is like to be fully alive, and that means to be thinking and feeling and moving even in a physical way that could be conveyed upon the page." -Joseph McElroy in conversation with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm This is my favorite novel. The competition is not close. Is it hyperbolic to say that in W&M McElroy comes close to actually realizing Heidegger's goal of approximating the essence of what it means to be by way of language? Yes, I suppose so. And yet... I will reread this book again within the year. Third time seems to be the charm so far w/r/t my own ability to absorb/digest/properly "live in" this book. My wife asked me why I keep re-reading it after I told her I'd just finished, felt a bit sad (already feeling the Void), and can't wait to pick it up again. It's a fair question - what is it that keeps me coming back? Put most simply: I don't know of another work that so rewards and trusts the auditor as a true collaborator. Nor do I know of a work that operates on this level of "difficulty"/abstractedness while actually making good on its mysteries and opacity. Typically when I get obsessed with a work of art, film, music, fiction, poetry and pore over it I start to see the seams. This act of willed demystification isn't a bad thing - though with "erudite media" it often can be, revealing work that requires dressing up to conceal poor ideas or a lack of ideas; work that amounts to little more than smoke, mirrors, and games. W&M is the opposite of this. Unconvinced? Go into it with a machete, hack it up. You'll find it grows back fast and even fuller than before. *Original Review* W&M's reputation is well-earned - it is relentless, massive, daunting, frustrating… a good case could be made for it being one of the most difficult works in American letters. This is stuff you probably already know if you're here and considering it as "to-read." What you may not know is that it is one of the most authentically human novels of the last century, filled to the brim with ecstatic and complex characters, intrigue and mystery, spare but deft humor, wonderful generational dramas, haunting and beautiful vignettes, legend and myth - to say nothing of the prose style which, simply put, must be read to be believed. For me, the enduring memory of the experience of going through W&M (until I read it again, which I surely will) is the degree to which the sheer humanity and ontologies of the characters (both principal and periphery) come through in the text. This is a book where any action or plot machination is filtered through myriad layers of subjectivity (memories, imagination, preconceived notions, biases, false thinking, deja vu, aging and of course mortality, and on and on). McElroy spares us none of this. The "now" of all of W&M's characters, Jim in particular, is a temporal expanse (literally and figuratively), a flux, a map of human consciousness and experience replete with absences, labyrinthine pathways, old (and futural) haunts, and serious complications. Read Women and Men when you want a novel that comes miraculously close to charting the lived. And read it when you have the time, patience, and desire to let it wash over you in eddies and currents, like those of Holderlin's (or Heraclitus') river. And then read it again.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    "We had learned we were a language" This is, to put it mildly, a completely unique work of art. It is a novel unlike any other novel I have read (excepting, of course, Joe's other work). It moves through time and thought and Being with such astonishing fluidity it will leave you Breathless. As I have said in other McElroy reviews, he works by accretion, by non-linear addition, by echoings and layerings and leaps across time and perspective within the bounds of a single sentence. It is hard only "We had learned we were a language" This is, to put it mildly, a completely unique work of art. It is a novel unlike any other novel I have read (excepting, of course, Joe's other work). It moves through time and thought and Being with such astonishing fluidity it will leave you Breathless. As I have said in other McElroy reviews, he works by accretion, by non-linear addition, by echoings and layerings and leaps across time and perspective within the bounds of a single sentence. It is hard only in that it requires your trust, and requires you to suspend your demand for certainty and a well signposted plot. Just enjoy how the whole thing grows in you. It certainly needs a re-read, which I intend to do next year. The idea of writing some sort of "review" of this novel seems entirely impossible, so here are a few thoughts and connections and ramblings which I hope will suffice. I have now read all of Joe's novels (excepting his new short one which just came out). Interestingly almost all have the quest/detective element, which helps to provide a dynamism and "plot movement" structuring the slow exploration of consciousness and of Being. " Trading Cities 4 In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city's life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia's refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing. They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away. Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form. " - Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities Of course, for McElroy, the strings are constantly shifting, and constantly vibrating from the breath of Angels. *********** I am playing with Play-Doh with my son and teaching him about numbers. I take one yellow ball and then a second and ask him how many we have. "Two", he says. Then I squish them both together and roll my hands around and around. "And now?" "One". I take a yellow ball and a red ball. "How many?" "Two". I put them together. I roll the Doh in my hands. He looks perplexed at the red and yellow streaked object. I roll the ball a few more times until it becomes pink. "One!" he says. *********** This is a novel of paired-joinings, of the point where two things meet into one, of the merging of two into one, of one created from two, of all the variations of this concept - for example: Man/+/Woman = Baby Future Man/+/Future Woman = Entity? (Angel?) (is it the streaked play-doh or the pink one? - what are these two Beings merged into one?) Past/+/Future = Present Earth/+/Moon = Liberation point lowercase chapters/+/UPPERCASE CHAPTERS = BREATHERS Body/+/Brain = Consciousness-angels Native Americans/+/Europeans = USA Liquid/+/Particles = Colloid Sky/+/Earth(Sea) = Horizon Reader/+/Text = Novel Novel/+/Reader = discourse-angels (reader-consciousness) SR/+/SR = ? ************* Some examples of Colloids: Fog; shaving cream; blood; milk; pumice; jelly; dust; clouds; muddy water; and cheese. ************** "Feel him pointing off to the right thirty miles where you know the colossal stacks of the power plant govern space as you go on staring here at the fourteen-hundred-foot Rock in front of you and at it only but those stacks don't go away any more than Consolidated Edison chimneys horizoning the blue New York sky so finely rust-rinsed it's a movie of itself what do you need to spend time going out West to see some Four Corners New Mexico gasification project with cast, near, dark, strip-mined hills of slag that at this distance in a New York shower two thousand downtown miles under the brow of the continent, where they take a deep surface of coal and turn her into "natural" gas to pipe to California, there to keep body and soul together, and would generate new gas-powered TV sets by next year or at least by 1978 on which to look eastward at their fuel source, were not the upper-air electricity soon to be tapped by the cloud-needle project exploiting the grand and ancient cumulonimbus formations traditional to the American Indian airspace." That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is one hell of a sentence. It is also by no means the most impressive in this novel, nor is it a rarity. It is from the first quarter of the book and selected (almost) at random. Nobody else does sentences like this - the way they slip through time and perception and focus, the way they ripple and flood with meaning, the way they trigger countless pressure-points - for god's sake we have personal, political, cultural, sexual, geological, environmental, temporal flickerings all in the same damn "thought". And he does this sort of thing again and again and again throughout his fiction.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aloha

    Link to Women and Men forum: Women and Men Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men opens with a birthing scene. The woman is at a party flashing back to her experience of birthing the baby. The title “division of labor” sets the economic tone of labor and productivity that recalls Karl Marx’s Division of Labor . She was experiencing awful pain while her husband Shay, formerly David, was below awaiting the birth of their child. He was paying attention and documenting everything, but can never really know h Link to Women and Men forum: Women and Men Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men opens with a birthing scene. The woman is at a party flashing back to her experience of birthing the baby. The title “division of labor” sets the economic tone of labor and productivity that recalls Karl Marx’s Division of Labor . She was experiencing awful pain while her husband Shay, formerly David, was below awaiting the birth of their child. He was paying attention and documenting everything, but can never really know her pain. She had her husband, the young male obstetrician and two nurses with her, but she felt alone in company. They both coached her as she labored ... To read more of this review, please go to: Women and Men by Joseph McElroy My half-Manny/half-Hydra signature as protest against arbitrary GR censorship. Feel free to use this image as you see fit.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick Craske

    Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? That was the title of a 1972 lecture given by the scientist Edward Lorenz. He was studying changes in weather in the early 60s and accidentally discovered a dynamic non-linear system – a high profile discovery within the science community and American culture. Joseph McElroy’s sixth novel, Women and Men is inherently inspired by, structured and constructed around Lorenz's dynamical mathematical system; we know it today as Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? That was the title of a 1972 lecture given by the scientist Edward Lorenz. He was studying changes in weather in the early 60s and accidentally discovered a dynamic non-linear system – a high profile discovery within the science community and American culture. Joseph McElroy’s sixth novel, Women and Men is inherently inspired by, structured and constructed around Lorenz's dynamical mathematical system; we know it today as Chaos Theory. From 1966 to 1977, Joseph McElroy, wrote five post modern novels earning him respect and praise in literary and publishing circles and a cult like readership. This operatic monolith, was published in 1987 and is is a gift to readers seeking what David Foster Wallace called ‘candy for the soul’; the resonating ‘tuning fork’ in the mind. To quote Tom LeClair in his essay on Women and Men in his excellent book The Art of Excess: Mastery in American Fiction (highly recommended as an auxiliary read) If the reader of Women and Men understands McElroy’s models and purposes, which I have discussed, this sensibility will be experienced as generous and can have the ravishing effect —intellectually, emotionally, morally. To help comprehend these 'models and purposes', it’s worth casting one’s peepers on these two mathematical models of Chaos Theory. They certainly informed and enabled my comprehension and deep enjoyment of the writing and structure – I deeply experienced both the 'ravishing’ and ‘tuning fork’ effects. [Images can be viewed clicking link next to star rating above] Lorenz Attractor Double Compound Pendulum I think this novel is an exquisite literary interpretation of these beguiling models. It's a soulful, polyphonic word feast; entirely unique and original; a huge, epic and multifaceted rare artefact and the epoch of post modern writing. There is a plot and a narrative —in ultimate abstraction— but the structure and writing is what lit me up. The sentences are divine. They’re long Proustian fractal-like syntactical structures which play with the reader's expectations – narratively, contextually and grammatically. There are unexpected dissonances and harmonies, cursive and recursive; subordinate structures which echo and fragment the inner-and-outer thoughts and dialog of intermingled characters – their language a circular commingling of esoteric and scientific information. So yes, plot and narrative… In my spectacularly truncated and compressed summation the novel’s key protagonists and the plot are as follows: Grace Kimball and Jim Mayn, in 1977 New York, live in the same Manhattan apartment block but never meet. Kimball and Mayn are counterpoints within the novel's Lorenz-Attractor-like plotting structure. In music, 'counterpoint is the relationship between voices that are harmonically interdependent (polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and contour’. Grace is a middle-aged feminists who hosts a Body-Self unisex workshop, in her apartment. Jim Mayn is science journalist, divorced and living in his ex-wife’s apartment. Because of residual trauma in his early teens, his mother's suicide, he never dreams. (view spoiler)[ Jim Mayn is questing. He doesn’t dream —the baby in utero, as describe in the novel, is 'the ultimate dreamer'— and Jim Mayn’s dreaming toward the end of the book, may imply it's him being reincarnated in birth, in the books beginning, in a circularity. (hide spoiler)] The novel quantum leaps from 1800s, 1960s, 1970s and into the future. Jim Mayn’s Grandmother, in telling a magical realist story of an Eastern Princess takes the reader back in time. Mayn has visions of a future space station and describes the intermingling of two individuals into one person during teleportation. And there are Breathers, a collective of so-called ‘angels’… the 'colloidal' shared consciousness… (think FX Networks Marvel TV show Legion, minus the Shadow King… then again, McElroy does have the Breathers communicating with The Interrogator… ) One of Joseph McElroy’s bravest decisions was placing a dense introduction to the Breathers at the front of the book; some of the most intermingled and abstract writing, within the second chapter and the very first Breathers section. These first 200 pages introduce motifs, patterns and themes that will gradually unfold in slow undulating pivots and turns of logic in a stream of consciousness style. Initially they have no context or meaning but this deliberate elegant randomness of the novel is full of unexpected convergences and becomes hugely rewarding for the intrepid reader. The suspension of comprehension is rewarded with epiphanies – I experienced an exquisite sense of euphoria when this prose-style-structure began curving into lucid coherence, like remembering a dream. There are a plethora of other characters who’s lives overlap and intermingle. And an intriguing plot line involving a Chilean economist – these characters all converge together in the novel's closing chapters. The literary critic Tom LeClair says authors of the excessive Systems Novels are 'willing to lose five readers to transform one'. My head flipped open and, like the cosmic psychedelic tunnel sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the universe poured in… I am transformed. That sounds pretentious but imagine discovering reading for the very first time… this was my experience reading Women and Men. Dzanc books are —as I write this review— printing a new revised edition this week(I finished reading my Dalkey Archive paperback on Sunday the new Dzanc edition went to print on Monday – more cosmic-chaos circularity?). This is thrilling news for many readers here on Goodreads, especially in light of the scarcity of affordable earlier editions – a first edition hardback first printing in fine condition can cost $400.00. Get some psy-kick 'soul candy', buy-read-live-'n-dwell-inside this dense Collidescopic™ polyphonic word-palace and let the 'tuning fork' reverberate inside your mind, body and soul. Chaos Theory via Wikipeda Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics focusing on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. 'Chaos' is an interdisciplinary theory stating that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, self-organization, and reliance on programming at the initial point known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions. The butterfly effect describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state, e.g. a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas. Links: What Physics Can Teach Us About Writing Fiction: http://bit.ly/2uXFsRr via The Millions. The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction, Tom LeClair. (Doffed hat to Nathan N.R Gaddis for initially putting Women and Men and Joseph McElroy on my radar)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sentimental Surrealist

    Let's talk McElroy, hailed as the "lost postmodernist." Let's maybe take one from McElroy's own book, in fact this book which I have just finished and taken it upon myself to review, and talk about simultaneous reincarnation (or "S.R.," which I wouldn't know about without the continued and highly commendable efforts of Goodreaders Aubrey, so unceasingly kind as to send me a copy, Nathan "N.R.," and the other great & passionate McElroyites on this (give them a massive hug on) site). Allow your hu Let's talk McElroy, hailed as the "lost postmodernist." Let's maybe take one from McElroy's own book, in fact this book which I have just finished and taken it upon myself to review, and talk about simultaneous reincarnation (or "S.R.," which I wouldn't know about without the continued and highly commendable efforts of Goodreaders Aubrey, so unceasingly kind as to send me a copy, Nathan "N.R.," and the other great & passionate McElroyites on this (give them a massive hug on) site). Allow your humble servant to posit that McElroy is the simultaneous reincarnation of Pynchon. The two are unified by the size of their worldview, their doctrine-spanning styles, and their dizzying, all-encompassing prose, but the river split and the curves run parallel. First in terms of reputation & recognition (a smile through the void for the postmodernists in the crowd, if I may work in a third possible simultaneous reincarnate, because if one can become two then why not three?) - Pynchon we know as the not actually reclusive god-king who every few years releases titanic novels hailed for reading our cultural codes so accurately, while McElroy we don't know except to use the words Ozick put to Gaddis: "famous for not being famous enough," not to be confused with "famous for being famous" by any stretch of anyone's imagination. Yet more key to the McElroy-Pynchon dynamic is McElroy's vision, his interest in not just the systems but the people that compose them. That's what's key to this behemoth: as other reviewers have rightfully pointed out (see Hadrian's excellent write-up for an example), our boy McElroy not only sees the universe in a grain of sand but grants that universe the same sense of weight that he gives our broader cosmos. So he'll talk about the whole history and mythology of the Anasazi people in one chapter and record the exacting details of a conversation about gender relations overheard in a cafe the next, and it's all important, all necessary to the book's broader vision which isn't so much a plot as a reading of history that happens to converge on a fictional point and a series of McElroy's own theories. Which is a lot to take in, and which sits in defiance of an alarmingly serious aspect of our current cultural dialog: that since we're all just made up of decaying carbon and will all die anyway, we'd all be happier if we abandoned our "human-centric" viewpoint and saw ourselves as insignificant on the scientific mega-scale. "Not so," says McElroy, who holds that people are matter but would like to offer two alternatives - that people matter and that people are the matter, the makings of something broader. So far this might seem like a bit of a chilly book, but that's not true, either: it brims with an energy that sweeps you through its paragraphs, which eat DFW paragraphs for breakfast, and it frequently interrupts itself, dives off into tangents, and spills into dialects and wild puns, unexpected jokes and self-reflexive word games. Words, words, words, but also systems, systems, systems. And dualities - the eponymous of course, as it plays out for mother-father, husband-wife, brother-sister and so forth, but see also communism-capitalism, old-young, chaos-order, infinite-infinitesimal, modern-ancient, colonizer-colonized, medicine man and hermit-inventor, revolutionary-reactionary, sun-moon. Let's for a moment lament how McElroy vanished. Seems to me you shouldn't be able to write a work of this magnitude and find it ignored, but that's how it happened. Granted, this one's coming back into print, and I imagine with the guy's internet following growing that he could easily come into some sort of literary spotlight soon. If he does, let's hope he doesn't get boiled down to something easily digestible, as is becoming the lamentable fate of the great DFW (Empathy! Graduation speeches! Movies! People not reading any of his works beyond a few pieces of nonfiction!) or Pynchon (paranoia! We're good), but just the same, maybe it won't be too long before this book gets some of the recognition it deserves. The best way to go about this is to pick up the reprint when it comes out and buckle down. And it's definitely one to buckle down for. McElroy's prose has an astonishing flow, but it's dense with information and development and motion. But there are all sorts of reasons to rise to the occasion, especially if you're a fan of that swimming-head feeling of having read a truly great piece of fiction. Shit, I haven't even gotten into the dream of the "safe bomb" or the remarkable description of Ship Rock or the Hamlet opera thread. You gotta find out about those for yourselves.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    Log of the Journey of the HMS Women and Men Day 1: Noontime. Our good ship, the massive HMS Women and Men, sets sail out of Lincoln Harbor, NJ, USA. New Jersey coastline recedes in view. Lovely from a distance; far lovelier than from within it, I must confess. Our voyage began with the most joyous of news: a child born just as we breach’d the opens! (Apologies for punning; a lowly form of humour). A tremendous portent, howe’er misleading. Just out of sight of land, we are caught within the maelstr Log of the Journey of the HMS Women and Men Day 1: Noontime. Our good ship, the massive HMS Women and Men, sets sail out of Lincoln Harbor, NJ, USA. New Jersey coastline recedes in view. Lovely from a distance; far lovelier than from within it, I must confess. Our voyage began with the most joyous of news: a child born just as we breach’d the opens! (Apologies for punning; a lowly form of humour). A tremendous portent, howe’er misleading. Just out of sight of land, we are caught within the maelstrom of a storms' torrent. The HMS W&M is toss'd hither and yon by ballistics of wordwine, and I with it. My view, obscured, left us somewhere amongst seabeasts, I gamble. Tho’ scared, I maintain’d my status on deck; the sensation as thrilling as it was intimidating. I shall e'er endeavor onward, or go down to the fantastickal depths of the Locker with her as my leaden weight. At this early point in my journey—tho’ the direction is temporarily becoming clearer— I know not where our true destination will be, darling S., or whether I will e'er reach this “Choor.” But I have faith—faith that this mythologickal journey will, someday, return me to you a better man. Whether this in corporeal form or composed of aether, I will surround you nevertheless. (Map ref. point: p. 170, E/NE—approaching Ship Rock tomorrow) Day 2: O, Ship Rock, how I already long for thee! Your spiral’d column and fan, your wingèd plumage. Far too brief our stop; how absolutely stunning your vistas. You will remain with me e’er. The “Breather’s” are back. They come and go like nightsharks. They pull me into their gestalt and I am lost. Hours at sea become seconds become seemingly days. These “Breather’s” have a language all their own. But what language! How it swoops and soars o’er the ship like the genus Fregatidae we last saw perch’d ‘pon the Rock. There isn’t the word to describe them (dammit, S., that’s wrong! there are simply too many words—hundreds-of-thousands—and I, as a man, am not their equal). They are exhausting, bracing. I have surrendered to them. Much progress has been made ‘pon the ocean today; I fear overmuch and at too great a clip. Have I seen too much or too little? There’s no way to know. I write from the fo’c’scle by candlelight, my mind denuded by magick or lunacy. It as if I’ve star’d at His great Sun from daybreak ‘til the Great Eye dipped behind the cruelly dispassionate banded-width separating sea from sky. Is this what Madness feels like??? (Map ref. point: p. 534, N/NE?—Session with the Breather’s at first light) Day 3: Bow port stern star, bow port stern star, bowportsternstarbowportsternstar! How massive can this ship be? (119.2 yards; 1192 tons.) Once ‘pon it, the HMS W&M becomes infinite and myself with it. Surely a tell-tale of psychick damage. Proof: this morn’ I was chased up-mast by the Breathers, and spent much time there racked by phantastickal visions of existential pain. In quick order I was convinced I suffer’d a triumvirate of maladies: scurvy, restless leg syndrome, and dementia (this last has still not been ruled out). Talk’d down by a promise of calming waters ahead (a damned lie in the end, the sea is butter); was thus confined to cabin and fed intra-venously. Almost surely an attempt on my life; certainly some poison of Anasazi descent. I treat’d the scurvy myself with a tincture of bearing-grease and orange-drippings fashion’d into a pomade, applied liberally to the hair and scalp. Tho’ temporarily blind, I know this to be my true source of salvation. The sea is not madness, nor the HMS W&M. The sea is mute witness to my agony, and the ship its cradle. I did this to myself, S. I can imagine the shore, but I can no longer envision myself stepping ‘pon it. Have I been subsumed? (Map ref. point: p. 818, N/S/E/W???—in the belly of the Leviathan) Day 4: Watched His Sun rise ‘bove Creation from the vantage of the crow’s nest (the vision robb’d by the pomade having return’d). A peace, which ‘til now had eluded me, fill’d my breast. Maybe it be resolve or acceptance; it would seem the ship is part of me, and I it. As heretical a bootlicker as Bill Shakespeare may be, I quote him here: “Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” I suspect not, nor do I wish to try. Besides, the blood on my hands is from honest and hard labour (something you’d know not, Willy Tudor). Have a meeting with the Captain (Irish, I’m informed, but trustworthy; doubtlessly a papist and a Vaticant) scheduled well prior to ‘morrow’s arrival. Have composed libretto praising ship’s countless qualities to present him. I am rank with the stench of brine and perspirations; in shirt sleeves and wearing a five-day beard. I feel, S., that I, in many ways, am where I belong. What can this mean? (Map ref. point: p. 1091, due skywards—tomorrow: we shall see) Day 5: My Dearest S--. What was intended as a mere log of my adventure has turned into an epistle. There is no easy way to say this; no proverbials to hide fact: I am staying aboard. We take on new supplies and depart before dawn. Our next destination is immaterial. You see, I was mistaken all along. The point is not to finish this voyage, but to carry e’er on. The HMS W&M is no more a ship than it is some book: it is a portal into another, better dimension. In that way, it is eternal and I become infinite through it. Thus, there is no way to e’er finish the journey as there are no points to mark commencement or terminus. To embark ‘pon her is to escape time and reality; to become one with the godhead. So I will remain amongst my fellow crewmates—Nicky the Greek, No Reserve Gaddis, Jon the Cockney, San Fran “Dave,” Ronny Death, Hadrian’s Wall, Dicey Brian, Sofia (oddly nickname-free, that one), et. al. (they are fine people; better than I who will benefit more from their company than they mine). I had every intention of entrusting these pages to a certain Toko, an Oriental I’ve befriend'd who promised to hand-deliver them to (y)our door. He is a good and able man; should he still seek you out he can be trust'd. Instead, when I rest my pen in a moment I while roll these few pages map-wise and place them inside a wine bottle. Somewhere back o’er the ocean—when the time is right—I will pitch it starboard. I know that someday it will find you. I envision you laundering in the small river abutting the house and, when you most need it, the bottle playing against your calves. Pretend it is I. Infinitely… (Map ref. point: everywhere in all directions simultaneously)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jape

    I was absolutely elated, having very much wanted to read it for some time, when Dzanc announced it was publishing a new edition (the third, ever) this year of Joseph McElroy's quasi-infamous and presumably seldom-read (or certainly finished) WOMEN AND MEN. But hold the phone. That ain't all. Some time before the book's materialization, Dzanc announced on social media that they were offering for sale a number of copies signed by the author (!). Needless to say, I lept at the opportunity to acquir I was absolutely elated, having very much wanted to read it for some time, when Dzanc announced it was publishing a new edition (the third, ever) this year of Joseph McElroy's quasi-infamous and presumably seldom-read (or certainly finished) WOMEN AND MEN. But hold the phone. That ain't all. Some time before the book's materialization, Dzanc announced on social media that they were offering for sale a number of copies signed by the author (!). Needless to say, I lept at the opportunity to acquire one of these signed copies, going through a small amount of rigamarole in order to do so from Canada, where I reside. There were minor delays with the release of the edition, but long story short: I have been living with my signed copy of WOMEN AND MEN for a few months and it may well be my most prized possession. I have been waiting for a block of time wherein I would have some considerable grace to dedicate myself to it relatively unobstructed. And have I ever! It pleases me tremendously that I have managed to read McElroy's massive and wildly ambitious tome in twelve days. Eleven days, actually. On the fourth day I wasn't able to read even a single page as I was driving about the province in order to gather family members to attend a 100-year-old woman's birthday party. Eleven days, then. That's an average of nearly 118 pages a day. As I proceeded, the number of pages I was reading per day kept increasing as the novel's grip tightened. In its last few hundred pages WOMEN AND MEN became so mad and stimulating that I thought my nervous system might overload. I am not sure I have had any previous experiences as reader of excitation quite this intense! But, of course, it was an experience I have already demonstrated that I was primed for. Why? Ambitious novels by the so-called postmodernist American novelists (especially Gaddis, Gass, Coover, and Pynchon) have long given me more pleasure than anything else on the market. In fact, the American writers attacked in Jonathan Franzen's notorious, execrable, and utterly unfortunate essay "Mr. Difficult" constitute a large list of my heroes. I also find extremely long novels very exciting, as the level of engagement they summon from me is often psychically and spiritually transformative. Franzen calls these many writers I revere not only "difficult" but "Status" writers, as though extremely ambitious and challenging novels are a kind of phallic, egotistical product of malformed pride, meant to garner admiration at the expense of providing pleasure for readers. Franzen would presumably say that the extraordinary pleasure I experience reading ambitious and mind-pummelling literature is either me kidding myself or merely a freakish aberration entirely beside the point. Also: far from a kind of phallocentric manspreading, I find a novel like WOMEN AND MEN feminine in the extreme, as fertility and abundance might well be feminine concepts par excellence. This is especially important in relation to this particular novel in terms of how the work grapples with gender and purges itself of toxins. I do not think art like this is done for Status. I think it is done in direct engagement with tradition and with the Gods. When you undertake to do something this monumental, it so clearly has to be about commitment to the work itself, and I find assertions to the contrary absolutely incredible. The postmodern American writer with whom McElroy probably has the most in common, from the standpoint of theme and craft, is Thomas Pynchon. McElroy himself has confessed a certain fraternity. Ribald and dense twentieth-century novels were routinely compared to GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, but because it is a network novel informed by science, technology, and geopolitics--not to mention no small amount of entropy and paranoia--in the case of WOMEN IN LOVE the comparison is apt. McElroy is less baroque than Pynchon; there is far less orgiastic slapstick. WOMEN IN LOVE is massive and encyclopedic, though spiritually very open and expansive. At times it made me think of Rilke, at times it made me think of Dickens. I don't know if Wallace was influenced by WOMEN AND MEN, but the novel would have to be considered as much a precursor to INFINITE JEST as is GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. It is interesting that McElroy's massive novel is set primarily in New York in the late seventies, because perhaps the work of art it most reminded me of is Jacques Rivette's twelve-hour 1971 film OUT 1, something of its Parisian cinematic equivalent. Both WOMEN AND MEN and OUT 1 are urban, paranoid, and concerned with the domain of the conspiratorial, both are network narratives, and both feature a male and a female protagonist who almost completely fail (in McElroy's novel COMPLETELY fail) to directly interact. (The theatre groups of OUT 1 find their equivalent in WOMEN AND MEN in the form of the production of a fantastically odd sub-sub-Verdian HAMLET opera.) WOMEN AND MEN is composed primarily of essentially three different kinds of sections. Chapters about the main characters, quasi-Chekhovian slices of life featuring New Yorkers who are often completely divorced from any of the central action, and long sections called BREATHERS. Reading about WOMEN AND MEN over the years, I had begun to assume that the BREATHERS would be borderline unintelligible, sort of like the passages of near-gibberish in ULYSSES, but that is far from the case. Far from being the slotted-off breaks the designation might suggest, these sections are where much of the core business and real magic happens. Breathing is foregrounded as the central component of our embodied experience. In these sections embodied experience merges with fragmentation and the dissolution of the subject. They mobilize a kind of web of kinetic interbeing. Late in the novel an astral projecting convict talks of the Coloidal Unconscious. All our spirits are bound up in one another. Everything literally dissolves into a psychospiritual community stew. The BREATHERS also invite the voices of "angels" and "interrogators." "Angel" is described as a category as broad as "animal" or "mineral," and any given interrogator could be, in the language of the author, "so internalized it could be I or they across that sexually shared ocean.” Degrees of clairvoyance are ubiquitous in the novel, people serving as "transponders around the infinite network clinging to Earth’s made-to-measure finite sphere-cozy of a surface." At times the novel verges on science fiction. Perhaps its central image belongs to a future (to which the male protagonist Jim Mayne would seem to also belong in some mysterious parallel): lines of men and women lined up two by two and stepping onto a pad that transports them through space and causes them to emerge as one person. Elsewhere in the novel looms the specter of a non-lethal radiation that can turn one person into two. The sun and the moon at times become individually doubled. The central fixation of the novel is ultimately with the merger and separation of the sexes, the fraught contingencies of coupling. Jim Mayne, divorced journalist, represents that male side of the equation. Though, again, he is not a contained subject--he is radically the contrary. Late in the novel he is described as "part of a multiple scene but not any one answer to it." Grace Kimball (also divorced) is the principal female character, the woman who lives in his apartment complex but who he never quite meets. (I would like to pause here to just insert that there are A LOT of charcters in this novel.) As an at times exaggerated embodiment of trends relating to second wave feminism emergent in the New York of the 70s, Grace, who runs sex-positive Body-Self workshops, frequently speaks of the the need to temporarily sequester the sexes, dismantle the institution of marriage, integrate a culture of swinging, and even jokes about the necessity of subjecting men to a little "light rape." A recent article in the Paris Review by Adam Dalva worried me somewhat by suggesting that McElroy's treatment of feminism is possibly a little harsh. I was a little worried that I might have some reactionary ugliness in store for me. It would seem that McElroy did have unpleasant (for him) personal involvements with women belonging to circles similar to Grace's during the period (in the locale) the novel is set. He does also say, however, in discussion with Dalva, that he had also sympathized with the aims of the feminists he knew. It is clear that he wishes to mostly engage phenomena in good faith. And let me just say that Grace Kimball is a marvelous characters, a person I like and enjoy. She lays down a good rap and it is hard not to cozy to her. I will hardly be alone in feeling this. What I think kind of haunts the novel is divorce. Broken families. (Bears noting that McElroy does suggest that suicide was a common, and far from preferable, alternative to divorce before the relative popularization of legal separation.) What I believe bothers McElroy is glib and cavalier attitudes to these matters. Family is very important to WOMEN AND MEN. It is a source of ache and irresolution. As is romantic love. Giant global conspiracies ultimately become a matter of the family and the imperative to connect (and retain connection). It is a teeming novel of dazzling accrual. It would be folly to go any further attempting to sketch its scope. I thought of the famous story, possibly apocryphal, relating how the screenwriters of the movie adaptation of THE BIG SLEEP asked Raymond Chandler who had committed one of the murders in his novel, only to have Chandler confess that he didn't know. I wonder how much of a lock McElroy had on his palimpsest. How outlined is this giant? Was there an effort to produce layers of mystification or rather to operate from within it? What finally stuns about the book is the sheer abundance of moving pieces and the confounding levels of interrelation. The build is absolutely tidal (and the building towering). I am left with the sense of the importance of intimate connection and personal reflection in an interconnected world of daunting and irreducible complexity. And I am left with the insistent sense that creating art can be heroic.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Robinson

    I finished Women and Men late last night and I don’t know what to do with myself. After three months spent dwelling inside of this massive text, I’m left feeling like I’ve just gotten back from weeks spent out on a boat in rough seas; I had gotten used to the waves, to the chaos and unpredictability. And now, to be back on solid ground, to no longer be reading Women and Men... well, I don’t really know what to do with myself. I feel almost empty, lost, hesitant to start in on another novel today I finished Women and Men late last night and I don’t know what to do with myself. After three months spent dwelling inside of this massive text, I’m left feeling like I’ve just gotten back from weeks spent out on a boat in rough seas; I had gotten used to the waves, to the chaos and unpredictability. And now, to be back on solid ground, to no longer be reading Women and Men... well, I don’t really know what to do with myself. I feel almost empty, lost, hesitant to start in on another novel today because this is the kind of novel that threatens to eclipse whatever you read after it. All seems piddling and inconsequential by comparison. I’ve never read anything like it, and I doubt I’ll ever read anything quite like it ever again. It is a truly unique novel, a singular artistic achievement that only McElroy could have pulled off. It’s expansive, gorgeous, frustrating, demanding, bold, life-changing writing and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Masterpiece.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ronald Morton

    “Women and men maybe weren’t meant to get along” I was talking to a co-worker about this book when I was about halfway through, simultaneously praising it and cautioning my co-worker about its difficulty level. The co-worker asks me, “what’s it about?” and I laugh a bit, and trail off, “well, that’s a bit tough to answer…” It is partly about the close and even microscopic interrelations between women and men, which are always there. Also, the book sees that there are strange similarities betw “Women and men maybe weren’t meant to get along” I was talking to a co-worker about this book when I was about halfway through, simultaneously praising it and cautioning my co-worker about its difficulty level. The co-worker asks me, “what’s it about?” and I laugh a bit, and trail off, “well, that’s a bit tough to answer…” It is partly about the close and even microscopic interrelations between women and men, which are always there. Also, the book sees that there are strange similarities between women and men—however, I cannot say that without acknowledging that this fundamental relationship happened during a time when second generation feminism was so important in New York, and there was a war going on that opened up all of the United States. -Joseph McElroy, on Women and Men There’s something expansive to be said about the fact that in a book “partly about the close and even microscopic interrelations between women and men” that the main male and female characters never meet - McElroy’s statement is spot on; within that context Women and Men explores in minute detail just how interrelated are the lives of its two main characters - it “microscopically”, patiently, weaves a jumbled, convoluted skein of characters – and families, and histories, and observers; stretched without regard to chronological time – that tie James/Jim Mayn and Grace Kimball close together, even when they are only passingly aware of the other. Trey Strecker: Your novels are remarkably spatial--the reader experiences first-hand connective networks, cognitive processes, neural neighborhoods, as you call them in the title of one of your early essays. Joseph McElroy: I'm glad you say "first-hand." And spatial, I guess so: sounds good. If you mean displacing time sequence with a theme unfolding, that's common in novels. Displacing time with space, though--is it me? is it the city? is it congenital attention shifts turning into a rhythm that layers time?--several things at once, the all-at-once, so extension in space comes across more than time passage. What good it is, I have no idea. It seems accurate. Strecker and McElroy’s description of the reader’s interaction with Women and Men is incisive – especially McElroy’s reinforcement of the “first-hand” aspect of it; this book completely and entirely subsumes the reader into its narrative; the book, in its own way, becomes easier as it progresses. But what about the book itself? It begins with a birth. But at the end when the elbows and hands and bottom and knees came free, slip, blip, grind no bump-and she only much later thought of the gunk draining out then, and nothing seemed to matter except the glistening baby that was younger than last month and was a baby beyond boy or girl, beyond not before, and then without strangeness nothing at all for quite a long moment seemed to matter-or be between them-not even the baby that was O.K., she’d looked at her husband behind the young doctor’s hands and she found tears on her husband’s seedy unshaven cheeks, tears from the wonderful vagueness in his eyes and on his forehead too, as if he had wept upward into his thick, bristly hair. But later she remembered what she could remember, as if she might have receded into her own breathing and part of her was never to be seen again, and knew he told the truth when he said it hurt him to see her in pain, and then she recalled those tears upon his forehead and saw that of course they were sweat. And she knew that while he did not look at her while he waited down there between her legs with the doctor, the tears that he could not keep from running out onto his face were not only for his daughter, because they did not-she was sure, she was sure-fill up his eyes and drop onto his skin until suddenly he had looked up past the appearing baby to look her in the eye-us, us--as he had not been able to down there at that end of the delivery table before now. The opening five pages of the novel are utterly perfect – I’ve never came across a better depiction of birth anywhere in literature – and also they are utterly deceptive. See, the chapters which are titled entirely in lowercase – the opening chapter being one of them – are quite straightforward and accessible, functioning almost as short stories breaking up the rest of the book. The language in these sections is still dense, bulky, and at times opaque – so when reading the opening chapter I thought I understood why the book was considered difficult (I mean, I was expecting 1200 pages of this type of density). And then the next 100 pages or so just sort of punches the reader between the eyes. No one but McElroy writes like this – and I mean that both as praise and as recommendation. I said above that the book becomes “easier”, and I mean it, but this book never becomes easy. It is densely populated with characters, many of whom are introduced early but not named until much later in the book – leading the reader to likely make false connections and relationships between characters only described or referenced by pronoun – even with the named characters in the book the relationships are often unclear, sometimes only revealing themselves through small details buried in page long sentences of exposition. Additionally, while the book is primarily set in New York in the mid 1970’s, it also spans centuries, mostly past but also a theoretical future, and often does so within the same chapter, the same paragraph, even sometimes in the same sentence. And so tenses are confused and jumbled. Not just tenses, but narrators as well. The narration of this book – if I’m reading the chapters titled in all caps correctly – is one being induced through a combination of interrogation and torture. And the narrators are plural, and the narrators are (I believe, I’m mostly going with the prevalence of this term throughout the novel) angels. Being such, they appear to exist outside of time and are seeing the story all at once – again, gleaned through the ALL CAPS titled chapters – and at a level of detail surpassing our own. And yet, McElroy pulls all of this off, and it is both overwhelming and breathtaking. Oh, and to add to all of that, the book is roughly 700,000 words – dense, monolithic pages of words – making it roughly 50% longer than War and Peace. (credit to somewhere to that piece of trivia – I don’t remember now where I came across it). This is a book that carries with it a reputation of being a difficult read; some books of this reputation are mostly just dense and long and only really require brute force on the part of the reader – Infinite Jest, The Tunnel, Ulysses – while others are difficult at the most basic narrative level – Gravity’s Rainbow, The Recognitions, Finnegan’s Wake. This book firmly falls into the latter camp; one could easily read its 1200 pages and leave no wiser than they came in. More than anything though I love the way McElroy writes: And yet we need that child or children. (There’s one or two of them right in the next room.) We said to our child in the next room, to our babe, our love, our hope for ourself, our sweet honest force, “How much light is there, then?" for the all-purpose child is doing its four terms of science dwarfed into one- and-a-half class-weeks (pill-assisted memory-wise, but we didn’t dare ask) and it should (our child) come up with a few of the answers and should know a thing or two about light; and it answers, “Plenty to go around,” it was us, not the kid, the kid knows a dumb question when it hears it (How much light is there?); yet then, inspired by pity, the child with angelic directness is heard to say, “Light is inside people so long as ...” and we add (because maybe that’s as far as our child is up to in class and because the light inside us feels deflected or busted, that sort of thing, though rebounding), “… so long as they turn,” because we have found upon turning that there’s light that likes that, inside us, it makes sounds during eye contact and in turn finds others nearby who have just turned as well, though not necessarily to us – “as long as they,” now continues the child formula from the next room, “turn it on!” This plus the cheer that accompanies the everyday discovery of the light that is cast by ice cream in the refrigerator. Almost every page contains some standout paragraph or sentence (or entire page). More than that, the book is almost entirely self-referential; the narrative seems to spiral in on itself throughout the book, revisiting scenes and times and expanding slowly on them, revealing more and more of the narrative as the book progresses. It is intricate at a stupefying level, and breathtaking throughout the entire read. I realize I’ve rambled a bit (a lot) here, but I needed to get as much of this down now as I could before some of the impact of this book began to dissipate. I am stunned by this magnificent book, I pity whatever book I read next for its failure in comparison (I’ll be gentle).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aiden Heavilin

    I read 800 pages of Joseph McElroy's titanic "Women and Men", the longest book written in North America. I didn't like it. My thoughts on what I read were too long for the character limit of a goodreads review, and thus can be found here: Joseph McElroy's "Women and Men" --- A Review I read 800 pages of Joseph McElroy's titanic "Women and Men", the longest book written in North America. I didn't like it. My thoughts on what I read were too long for the character limit of a goodreads review, and thus can be found here: Joseph McElroy's "Women and Men" --- A Review

  19. 5 out of 5

    David M

    A shock near the end: "It was as if suddenly, looking into the revealed distance, we could think." (pp 1161) And pray tell what is it that we think when suddenly granted the ability to do so (but then what in this 1192 page tome is really "sudden"?). That, I wager, is precisely not the point. It's not a question of content. I am reminded (all-too-conveniently, perhaps) of my favorite poet, the great Wallace Stevens. At the start of Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction, apostrophizing his art, "The vivid A shock near the end: "It was as if suddenly, looking into the revealed distance, we could think." (pp 1161) And pray tell what is it that we think when suddenly granted the ability to do so (but then what in this 1192 page tome is really "sudden"?). That, I wager, is precisely not the point. It's not a question of content. I am reminded (all-too-conveniently, perhaps) of my favorite poet, the great Wallace Stevens. At the start of Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction, apostrophizing his art, "The vivid transparence that you bring is peace"... For all his elaborate metaphors, the intricate/infinite evasions of as, etc, Stevens is writing manifestos for an entirely different, much simpler kind of poetry - a poetry of objects clearly perceived. His often baroque style, however, is not obfuscation or irrelevant decoration but the labor necessary to achieve a second naivete. I talk about Stevens in part because, having just finished Women and Men less than an hour ago, I'm not entirely confident I yet have the ability to discuss McElroy on his own. He is certainly a unique writer. The resemblances I see may just be my own feeble efforts to come to grips with this uniqueness. Both McElroy and Stevens are unafraid of abstractions - blooded abstractions - and both take the weather very, very seriously. In the interest of not giving away anything for the next reader, I shall leave the absolute last sentence unquoted in all its seven-word-long, declarative wonder. * I heartily recommend this book. I'd never even heard of it until I joined Goodreads this year (the author's name looked vaguely familiar). I was at once intrigued and a little skeptical. Was it really that great, or just very long and difficult and obscure? Well, now I've read it all and while I can't claim to have absolutely loved every word and minute of it, nonetheless I found it compulsively readable for stretches lasting a hundred pages or more. The writing is often nothing less than astonishing, and as an artist McElroy has real warmth and generosity. Among other things, an intimate portrait of the late seventies, that time when the revolution had definitively failed to materialize and people were forced to move on with their libidinal energies. One might uncharitably characterize Grace Kimball and her friends as yuppies. One might, but then again one might hesitate due to the book's presiding spirit of hospitality. This is not black comedy or satire. McElroy must be one of the least cynical writers alive. (As a narcissistic addendum, dear Goodreads, please allow me to say that I love the fact this book was published in 1986. Not only was that the year of my birth, it was also the year my idol Jean Genet finally left this vale of tears, as well as the year of the publication of perhaps my all-time favorite novel, A Book of Memories by Peter Nadas. This suggests many possibilities for either simultaneous or successive reincarnation.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I've struggled with what to say about this book. I mean, what could I say that would do justice to this brilliant work of art? I am puny and insignificant in its presence, and others more learned than I have said better. Still, I feel compelled to say something, however trivial, if only to count myself in as an ardent devotee of WOMEN AND MEN. This is one of only a handful of transformative novels that I am likely to discover in my lifetime of reading [though I can hope for a few more], the kind I've struggled with what to say about this book. I mean, what could I say that would do justice to this brilliant work of art? I am puny and insignificant in its presence, and others more learned than I have said better. Still, I feel compelled to say something, however trivial, if only to count myself in as an ardent devotee of WOMEN AND MEN. This is one of only a handful of transformative novels that I am likely to discover in my lifetime of reading [though I can hope for a few more], the kind of novel that you live with and within for months [if you slowly savor it like I did], where the significance of the ending is less important than the journey, and the entire fictional universe, with all its depth and mythology, lingers, occupies your thoughts, long after the final page is turned – I still find myself thinking about it two months later. While it is the nature of such novels – I mean maximalist, postmodernist, whatever – to world-build, to indulge in esoterica of all types, to eschew linearity, plot, and many of the literary guideposts readers have come to rely on to navigate fictional worlds, McElroy takes these elements to the nth degree in WOMEN AND MEN. And reading it is pure joy. WOMEN AND MEN is immediately elevated to my personal pantheon of greatest, timeless novels, joining such novels as GRAVITY’S RAINBOW, THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, DARCONVILLE’S CAT, ULYSSES, INFINITE JEST, MICKELSSON’S GHOSTS, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, to name a few that come to mind. And of all of them, W&M might be near the top of the heap. It's an audacious achievement of writing and imagination. I look forward to picking it up again soon.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Adams

    What a way to spend the July 4th weekend. Finishing one of the great American Novels. Ever. Sorry guys, no watching fireworks. Dad’s finishing his book. Not much I can say that will be better and more profound than the other McElroyites (???) on GR. It’s amazing. My first McElroy was Actress in the House when released in 2004(?) and then Lookout Cartridge and Women and Men. Care of the NYC public library. Much, much better this time. I’m smarter, more focused and I just loved it this time around. What a way to spend the July 4th weekend. Finishing one of the great American Novels. Ever. Sorry guys, no watching fireworks. Dad’s finishing his book. Not much I can say that will be better and more profound than the other McElroyites (???) on GR. It’s amazing. My first McElroy was Actress in the House when released in 2004(?) and then Lookout Cartridge and Women and Men. Care of the NYC public library. Much, much better this time. I’m smarter, more focused and I just loved it this time around. In hindsight I wish I bought a copy of either. I had to wait years to buy this beautiful copy from Dzanc. This is truly an incredible reading experience and one that I wish upon anyone that hasn’t read. Mind. Blown.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tentatively, Convenience

    review of Joseph McElroy's Women and Men by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - October 27, 2011 I. Actually. FINISHED. Reading. This. Whole. Fucking. Thing. From. Cover. To. Cover. All 1,192pp of it. I don't remember when I started this - maybe in March of 2011 - it took me something like 6 mnths to read it. Where to even start?! I'd only previously read McElroy's The Letter Left To Me wch I liked just enuf to consider reading something else by him. Then I found 2 bks by him on a dollar table outside a review of Joseph McElroy's Women and Men by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - October 27, 2011 I. Actually. FINISHED. Reading. This. Whole. Fucking. Thing. From. Cover. To. Cover. All 1,192pp of it. I don't remember when I started this - maybe in March of 2011 - it took me something like 6 mnths to read it. Where to even start?! I'd only previously read McElroy's The Letter Left To Me wch I liked just enuf to consider reading something else by him. Then I found 2 bks by him on a dollar table outside a bkstore. Now, in my experience, when something reaches the dollar table or the cut-out bin or whatever it's often things I have no interest in whatsoever (like an outdated textbk) or something that's 'too much' for most people (like the early Mothers of Invention records in the local supermarket sale bins). I knew McElroy wasn't so much of a hack that he'd be in the 1st category so I got both bks. Then, of course, I just had to go all the way & read the longest one. & I've been semi-regretting it ever since. Why? B/c even though I think it's 'great' I'm still not sure that reading it wasn't a 'waste of time'! When I think of the experimental novels that I've read that I've loved the most, I think of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, William S. Burroughs' The Soft Machine, Mario Vargas Llosa's Conversation in the Cathedral, Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual, & Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy - to name a few. When I think of other long novels that I've read that I love but wdn't necessarily call experimental I think of Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon (773pp) & Against the Day (1,085pp) [see my review of that here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...], & Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (918pp) [see my review of that here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11...] & Quicksilver (916+pp). When I think of other long novels that I've read that I think were mostly crap, I think of Eugene Sue's The Wandering Jew (686pp) & Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans (925pp) [see the complete version of my review of that starting here: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/4...]. I'll start off by making a comparison to this latter. A promotional blurb for Stein's long work claims: "In The Making of Americans, Gertrude Stein sets out to tell "a history of a family's progress," radically reworking the traditional family saga novel to encompass her vision of personality and psychological relationships." & on p xix of Steven Meyer's Introduction to the Dalkey Archive edition that I have he claims that TMoA transforms from: "as Stein observed in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, "from being a history of a family to being a history of everybody the family knew," as it would later metamorphose into "the history of every kind and of every individual human being"" NOW, in relation to TMoA, that's got to be one of the biggest crocks of shit I've ever read - since TMoA is just Stein's collossally megalomaniacal verborrhea. BUT, if it were written about McElroy's Women and Men it wd give at least some idea of how ambitious this novel is - even though it wd still be inaccurate. So what CAN I accurately compare it to? None of the above, really - maybe the Vargas Llosa comes closest. Women and Men isn't stream-of-consciousness - but it meanders, sortof. Women and Men is in its own category once one tries to narrow it down from just 'novel'. It's a somewhat straight novel w/ characters who get developed.. but it's also SF, it's also a mystery, it's also myth, it's also political, it's also a novel of the 1970s.. & of times before.. & of the future.. I shd point out that Dalkey Archive published this as well as TMoA so I have to give them credit for taking the financial blow of publishing huge works w/ very little likely readership. Wch brings me to the 'reviews' that Women and Men has gotten: at the beginning of the bk there're 16 blurbed reviews that praise the work: WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS: How many of these people actually read the entire thing? Maybe Walter Abish did, maybe Harry Mathews did, maybe all of them did, maybe none of them did. Knowing, as I do, that most professional reviewers & academics have very little time for reading the things that they refer to, I've come to expect hack reviewing, both positive & negative. I think these reviewers were positively inclined toward McElroy & didn't necessarily think it 'necessary' to read the entire work. 4 of the reviewers compared it to Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Now I LOVE Gravity's Rainbow & I think Women and Men is pretty damn special too - but what do these works really have in common? Not much as far as I can tell. Gravity's Rainbow is a 'page-turner', it has a thrilling plot & the writing style is straight-forward enuf for the moderately literate to be able to follow (of course, that might still eliminate 90% of the readers these days). IMO, Women and Men is not a 'page turner': it's too meandering. There's no compelling plot thread that's likely to arouse fervent interest among people in search of war, eg, to get worked up about. It's too abstruse. & it developed veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. I LIKED IT FOR THAT but I have perverse tastes. Even for someone w/ my literate dedication, this bk is a challenge to read. When I got to the 1st Grace Kimball section I was almost defeated by my utter irritation w/ the character - & by how long the chapter was. It wasn't until I got to PAGE 285 & McElroy started playing w/ the language a bit more in the 1st of the Larry sections that I finally got some relief. & McElroy does play w/ the language. He uses a technique that I use too: the sudden dropping in of phonetic spelling & other deviations from the norm w/o any contextual justification. I like that, it keeps the reader alert, y'no? & here's a sample sentence from p416: "That's what Larry asked seventeen eighteen years later, and we hardly remembered he was still (read here) there, he's consented to be given a new Atala ten-speed by his father though he liked his old beat-up ten-speed Raleigh from the Island and now has an offer of a hundred dollars for it from Grace Kimball - he breathes so little in order to bring all he has to bear upon his internalized systems, none at all finished we understand, many started like variant radii aimed in at a locus of centers where may be found backward a hermit-inventor's new weather precipitated possibly from alterations in the charge-field of coastline configurations, not at this late date by that north-polar wind shift (you'll have sensed by now) that turned the clouds and altered rainfall shapes in the time of the gifted, hapless Anasazi six hundred years before the East Far Eastern Princess met the Hermit-Inventor in New York and saw herself in his glinting eye whose new weather at our afore-mentioned locus of centers got carried on by the hermit-inventor nephew of that old khaki beachcomber who came to the Jersey shore to speak to Margaret before he should die of what whole-grain toxins trekked through his system for years of breathing fire and smoke of bodies flying by his tenement windows, of using alcohol and tobacco, of pouring through himself all sugars of the City and all salts of the elaborate harbor where weet-wit weet-wit the purple sandpipers hosting their southern kinflock [tENT interpolation: note the pun off of "kinfolk"] of turnstones even more lost than they await the beaches of an earlier day, yet that earlier Hermit-Inventor managed to store one horned metabol adrift in his viscera drawing the rest of his substance toward it like a lip or a flower or flume." Now THAT was a good sentence - not in an easy-to-read sense but in the sense of there are few, if any, stock phrases in it. Women and Men takes place in NYC, as its advertising states, but it also takes place in the SW US, & in Chile, & in at least one imaginary place, etc.. It fascinated me how he managed to slip in political topics & history w/ such ease in sometimes unexpected places: the Guggenheims & Anaconda Copper on pp 521 & 617, & then Anaconda again on p 663. There's a whole section re a substitute teacher promoting anarchy. There's mention of the assassination of Orlando Letelier. There's mention of Lucky Luciano on p 1007. Much of the novel revolves around Pinochet's overthrow of Allende's government in Chile. There's an unidentified "interrogator". & McElroy certainly doesn't make it easy for the reader: pp 677-689 have an unidentified "I", & starting around 1054 there's an unidentified "he" who learns he's going to die soon. It isn't until we read more about Larry on p 1068 that we realize that the "he" is Ted, one of the main character's best friends. Reading McElroy to glean full plot elements means reading carefully. There's a character named George Foley who's in prison for murder. His textual style is unusual, he refers to Tesla vs Edison & the electric chair story. Later, on p 935, he respells his name "Feaulie" wch I speculate to be "faux lie": a "false lie", a double negative. It seems to be an interesting tactic on McElroy's part to have the only character who seems to know what's going on in the novel be the fortune teller, Señora Wing. From pp 938-942 she says some revealing things. Otherwise, all is, mostly, obscure. Some might say, as writer/reviewer Walter Abish does, that "McElroy illuminates with rare tenderness male and female union and apartness" but I tend to think that the title is misleading & is overemphasized by Abish. I only found maybe 2 mentions of "Women and Men" per se: pp 893 & 1049. There are surely many other novels that concentrate on women & men much more. Instead, Women and Men goes thru a whole complex of experience that certainly involved Women & Men & even explores them somewhat in depth thru Grace Kimball but, ultimately, explores so much more that Women & Men, per se, become more of a backdrop. If the bk were called "Suicides" it wd almost be just as apropos (ALMOST). I'd never accuse McElroy as being a poor writer, just a ssssssssssssssllllllllllllllllllllooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwww one. Threads are presented & the writing meanders thru them but it wasn't until p 956 when Jim Mayn & his dad, Mel, interact that I felt that the novel started 'turning'. I then began to wonder if Mel was Jim's "interrogator" in Jim's fantasy life. But, then, the "interrogator" seems to know Amy (p 1116) & that probably doesn't gel. &, shit, it wasn't until p 1081 that some info about Spence, a previously somewhat threatening 'fringe' character [pun intended], was revealed. There's paranoia: on p 1084 both the bike messenger & the spy read into SRO in an ignorant way. Such misreadings may contribute to the spy's hypothetical death later. & then there's the shooting of the "Trace Window": wassup?! There's plenty of mystery: some questions get answered, some are, perhaps, w/o answer. This isn't crime fiction, despite murders & suicides & whatnot, it's atmospheric, misty, cloudy. McElroy seems to delve into his writerly conclusions starting on p 1113: "We had learned we were a language; or was it we'd been asked to be?" where we also find these puns: "it came as an accusatory interrogation painfully circular could be so don't take her serially."Eventually, it seems that Science Fiction almost dominates (p 1114): "You cared about her. But go on, what kind of settlements were they? They sound quite real, routine like they're based on mature technology. I wouldn't know. Yes, I guess so. Maybe not planned out with all those sophisticated alternatives we can think about now, but when you were fourteen or fifteen the agriculture and the torus-shell stuff wasn't even in Galaxy I bet. I wouldn't know. I know. I simply saw a giant silver doughnut with spokes." By 1157 there's a section on the "bomb" that's certainly worthy of good SF & that really spins things on its head(s). McElroy waits, as most writers wd, to bring the 'punchlines' in near the end. & on 1162 there's even mention of the "multiverse"! &, then, after all that delightful verbosity, one can read at the end of the bk: "A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR Joseph McElroy was born in 1930. He has received numerous awards for his fiction. He lives in New York City. This is his sixth novel." Now, THAT"S minimal!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This is one of the best novels I have ever read. It's also one of the most difficult. McElroy does beautiful and strange things with the English language I have not seen done before, but no matter how dense matters get (and they get very dense in parts) the book is always moved by an amazing generosity - like getting concepts just out of your intellectual reach explained to you by friendly and very patient non-human entities (which actually could go as a plot-summary of sorts.) That said, he is a This is one of the best novels I have ever read. It's also one of the most difficult. McElroy does beautiful and strange things with the English language I have not seen done before, but no matter how dense matters get (and they get very dense in parts) the book is always moved by an amazing generosity - like getting concepts just out of your intellectual reach explained to you by friendly and very patient non-human entities (which actually could go as a plot-summary of sorts.) That said, he is a very human writer too, and there's a strong emotional resonance to most of the novel, coupled with a wonderfully underplayed humor. Apart from that, McElroy also pull off some quite exceptional shifts in tone and style, moving from quasi-scientific prose to dense stream-of-consciousness to a strangely naked form of realism, and though some of the chapters could stand as brilliant short stories or novellas in themselves - my favorites being the sad, funny and psychedelic portrait "Larry", the straight but emotional complex "the future" and the warm and humorous telepathic narrative of "OPENING IN THE VOID (smile)" - the incredible thing is how everything (themes, characters, plots) connects, reflects, mirrors, distort and occasionally melt together throughout the book. So, basically: Yes, it's long, and yes, it's difficult, but if you have just the smallest interest in what can be achieved with the form of the novel in the hands of a master, I can not recommend this book strongly enough.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Perifian

    review In PROGRESS Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. — E. F. Schumacher prolegomenonsense I, inchoate (almost Larry's age in furthest non-Lagrangian thread), of mostly speculative fictional background, discovered JPM through comparison in review now unfortunately lost to me, postmodern literary movement recently isolated; infinite gratitude, anonymous angel. Further inquiry returned presence of novel in v review In PROGRESS Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. — E. F. Schumacher prolegomenonsense I, inchoate (almost Larry's age in furthest non-Lagrangian thread), of mostly speculative fictional background, discovered JPM through comparison in review now unfortunately lost to me, postmodern literary movement recently isolated; infinite gratitude, anonymous angel. Further inquiry returned presence of novel in various catalogues of longitude et operosity, sought traits; latter primarily from prætension, necessitation of intellection, accretion of aptitude for delectation of such, and masochism, former for final and for guarantee, in combination, of 'noble failure' status as WCS. I perused reviews of œuvre, encountering GR, demonstrative quotations, critical analyses, essays of and by. I would auspicate with W&M, in its generality a frame/canvas for other opera of greater specificity. Zealous, I lacked sagacity in purchase; I could now be in possession of the Ultramarine Press edition and additional affluence; how very Yulish of me (fortunately electronic and paperback publication is imminent for all impurists). Archiseismotectonics After reading internal evaluatory blurb (Ulysses reference understandable from a mental perspective; occasional bicyclical forays, elevators and fridges aside), and a note on the type (I was unaware that this was a thing), I was struck by the intensity of the selected epigraphic quotations, masculinity and femininity, segments and humanity. The index is first indication of undulation (structural palpability facilitating), existent also within chapters (breathers are granted) (difficulty in comprehension of text at primary level is rare, elicited by beautifully bizarre analogies and general profound humours ((musical) tone is frequently light, fortunate in exploration of suicide collateral)), in various respects; I had read that the amount of majuscule characters present in a title was directly proportional to its difficulty and was daunted by the increased PREVALENCE in approach of conclusion, further upon rendezvous with breather. The first poignant chapter, punny title (JPM has a fondness for calembours, indicated by (smiles) in a certain section, meaningful ambiguity invoking castigation from interrogator), concerns birth (and conception, if I correctly already remember), a uniquely female physiological process (why must pain be forgotten?) and the farthest and closest point betwixt, though distance, or illusion, is stressed in party (?), the denouement occurs partially in a cemetery where Mayn dreams and realises that he does. Times are jumped between; this particular partial stream of consciousness is the most realistic representation that I have read, thoughts flowing, converging, colliding and escaping in their natural habitat as opposed to the "let's sit down and think" variety so frequently encountered. I would frequently interrupt my reading to write quotations, create phrases and paragraphs, draw sketches, peripatetically ratiocinate (or tilt head up and to the left, close eyes and delib(e)rate or LD), beam elatedly or rest, comfortable and content, the density was, for me, frequently exhausting; if I felt that I had begun to appreciate and/or understand less, I would, with mignardise, slide the tome back between my hardbacks, return later, occasionally after a period of several weeks, read a word or two, repeat the aforementioned process, return, read two hundred pages, all dependant on various circumstances; if I failed to inject and extract meaning and connections into every word and overarch, I would backtrack and attempt again. I would have preferred to work on this review during as conceptual vastness occasionally supersedes impressive memorability from overwhelming power. The second CHAPTER was initially rather perplexing, the significance of certain (variable) images (combined), meditation upon which (tapeworm to tornado to our gregarious locusty) (and words and phrases (variations in repetitions) and relations(hips) (though I cannot recall mention of Jim's paternal grandparents, rather strange as a grandfather whom I have never met and, sadly, can never meet, is a heavy part of me and seen in me by others and myself) and systems (meteorology (McElroy also appreciates noctilucents and all) and œconomy as analogues, reminiscent of Mosley's marvelous wavicular whimsy)) triggers for recollection and addition of præceding epiphanies to aforementioned articulated structure internalised and constructed throughout opus by reciprocity, synæsthesia, by one and all (especially apparent inBETWEEN HISTORIES), becoming gradually almost entirely apparent considerably later (to fanfare of progressive cathartic lucidity, inspiration, exhilaration (I am glad that mine own written dib-dabblings have aided appreciation); this is still a work (power) in progress for me. Several notable personal infiltrations/perichoreses were born of Bhagavad Gita, ear infection, marital dissolution, childhood storytelling, et cetera. Mechanistic (over?) analyses were prevalent due to intent of complete encapsulation (funny(ish) example: Mayn = Many = Mayan (continental predecessors surfacing) = Mayan (illusory construct (multiple coincidental meanings)) = Man = May = cetera - laughable considering only dipping in at that point (don't get me started on OG)) but were replaced by sensory imaginaria(s) and existence as a mirror to and text and world respectively et vice versa. It is frequently difficult to imagine that the text (as a whole and extracts) was actually written; it appears not even organic, a planet in the process of accelerated formation, something vast, gravitational collapse, galactic vortices, a photograph of a nebula, ineffable, imagining our solar system a single pixel afore potential stars so seemingly small upon our shining screens. The characters, kith, kin, one along, radiating from and between the M/F foci, as whorled fingertips in Michelangelo's creation of Adam, synaptic cleft and tense void, appear not created isolate but a selected sample. The size of the codex and several chapters may appear intimidating or attractive (I can imagine rates of enjoyable reading varying considerably) but is certainly justified and necessary as evident (dropped excerpts exist in NS & PFS, I look forward to digesting the former soon now after completion to understand decision, prior to completion of current bibliography (review enhanced by viewing work in relation), finalised by joyously anticipated, triumphant return to this book), though I have experienced page position slightly influencing verbal impact (+ve & (rarely) −ve). I feel immensely privileged to have heard of and read (with musical accompaniment, though nobody more bombastic than the Young-Reich-Riley-Glass quartet) this novel (as most, apparently, inevitably (on account of ridiculous quality and obscurity)) at so (relatively) young an age and intend to evangelise and present to proliferate knowledge of and love for this resplendent masterpiece. Here is a wave cloud in reward of your diligence:

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Sare

    "All people matter or all people are matter" I'm not one to reread a book, but I admit Women and Men could benefit from rereading. The first read to try to hold on to the storyline over 1,000+ pages with McElroy doing a fair bit to shake you. You build up some theories of what has happened. The second reading might be to test the theory or theories you have developed of the plot, and the third would be to finally just enjoy the form. In the end everything is more-or-less revealed and I'd say it's "All people matter or all people are matter" I'm not one to reread a book, but I admit Women and Men could benefit from rereading. The first read to try to hold on to the storyline over 1,000+ pages with McElroy doing a fair bit to shake you. You build up some theories of what has happened. The second reading might be to test the theory or theories you have developed of the plot, and the third would be to finally just enjoy the form. In the end everything is more-or-less revealed and I'd say it's brilliant, a great work - but to get to that point you're forced to wear a hair shirt and give it your all. My advice is to embrace the discomfort. Over the course of reading this I had written out two earlier reviews, now deleted, reflecting hopefulness in the first third and making proclamations of brilliance, to confusion and dejection, then finally elation, enlightenment, enjoyment My experience of reading this was perhaps similar to if I had a time machine or perfect memory and could relive my life, and reinvent some parts along the way. Looking back first I could imagine that I relive the big stuff, and beyond my own life span I might look for family legends and mysteries, add to them, explore and follow these narratives into the far future. If I did this enough times, for long enough, I might end up just jumping from one moment to the other looking at day to day moments of tranquility or conflict to linger in which define, or give a better picture of my essence or help me understand my existence. If supersonic science and physics are what you’re looking for I suggest you skip to the shorter work: “Plus”. This work was like Plus to the maximum through maximalism overload. Of course if you read the essays about Women and Men first it might be much easier, but then have you lost something, have you experienced this as you were intended to? If reading for the prose, you’ll find lots to love. There are some big emotional wounds and existential problems being chewed on. The chapter “news” made my throat constrict a bit like moments of a Richard Ford novel. Of course, you’ll also find this stuff more consistently in works by realists, but its good here too. Other areas of the text, especially near the beginning read somewhat more like poetry, to savour by the sip, by the sentence. Though, McElory eases off the early poetic forms and this turns into textual wilderness that’s easy to get lost in, until the last 150 or so pages where there is some clarity. What a ride!

  26. 4 out of 5

    H

    I've read that McElroy writes like Pynchon, or Gaddis. He doesn't. If he did, people would read him. I don't really know how to succinctly describe his writing, it seems like he's writing some kind of humanist bible for aliens who want to reconstruct a diorama of the fears and aspirations that go into existing in a major metropolitan area. It's beautiful, but so is a lot of stuff. A lot of fish are beautiful, so are certain types of rocks. Beautiful is not that great. What sets this apart from m I've read that McElroy writes like Pynchon, or Gaddis. He doesn't. If he did, people would read him. I don't really know how to succinctly describe his writing, it seems like he's writing some kind of humanist bible for aliens who want to reconstruct a diorama of the fears and aspirations that go into existing in a major metropolitan area. It's beautiful, but so is a lot of stuff. A lot of fish are beautiful, so are certain types of rocks. Beautiful is not that great. What sets this apart from most other writing, and certainly most other American writing, is its bizarre serenity. Reading this concurrently with White Noise really made me realize just how neurotic American writing has become. There's usually some uniting impulse in it, but it's trying to unite us through mental problems, headaches, annoyance at advertisements, it's not even honest enough to be cynical. I mean it's useful as a cultural barometer, to know that, yeah, by and large the thoughts preoccupying american writers are along the lines of "we suck and we're really really really worried about that," but it's not fun, it's not insightful, I don't need a guy at the american academy of letters to tell me that cereal commercials give me a headache. Not this book tho. One comparison that I feel is pretty valid for this book is JJ's Ulysses. Both are reaffirming in an almost atavistic and palpable way, that yeah ultimately we're the sum of what we see and feel, but so was everyone else before us and almost definitely everyone to come, and you know if you try a little you can see and feel some pretty amazing things. That sounds trite but I don't know, read the book, it made me pretty happy, in a contented, not optimistic but calmly hopeful way, in a way an American book never has done. Ever! This book is great wikipedia says some chapters are narrated by angels but I sort of interpreted the royal "we" as referring to people in general whatever wikipedia

  27. 4 out of 5

    sean

    as i was coming to the end of women and men, i started thinking about why a book like this -- originally put out in hardcover by knopf, of all publishers -- might be forgotten. not just forgotten, but culturally erased: do even the slightest research and you’ll find that, now out of print, even paperback copies of this book go for a minimum of $100 USD on abebooks. philip roth said shortly before he died that while the medium of the novel may endure as capitalism accelerates, the act of reading as i was coming to the end of women and men, i started thinking about why a book like this -- originally put out in hardcover by knopf, of all publishers -- might be forgotten. not just forgotten, but culturally erased: do even the slightest research and you’ll find that, now out of print, even paperback copies of this book go for a minimum of $100 USD on abebooks. philip roth said shortly before he died that while the medium of the novel may endure as capitalism accelerates, the act of reading “serious” fiction is doomed to become an esoteric, even cult-like activity. it’s hard to imagine a more apt emblem of this than the feverish community that this book has spawned on this website and elsewhere online. but i don’t think it’s the “seriousness” of this book that has lead to its obscurity. other examples of obscure, difficult 20th century fiction have endured. why not this one? my theory is that while the authors he is so often compared to conspicuously engage with literary traditions and contemporary movements, in women and men mcelroy resists this apparent imperative and instead creates something totally new, radical, and unparalleled. you would think this would work in the book’s favour, but in effect it means that nobody (myself included) really knows how to talk about it. books with similar reputations borrow from and react against what came before them. they have their own seemingly preordained talking points: critics know to say that the recognitions works as some conduit between modernism and postmodernism, that gravity’s rainbow represents the high point of postmodernism, and infinite jest signifies the beginning of something new. but what about this thing? this big, strange, forgotten thing that happened somewhere in the middle of it all? you can’t lump this book in with the other ones. beyond its size, it has nothing in common with them, or anything else in 20th century writing. much of the time, mcelroy seems kind of unconcerned with producing a "literary" text as we might usually conceive of it, and as a result, it resists typical critical approaches to understanding it. how do you begin to talk about mcelroy’s depiction of the interrelations of consciousness, history, discourse? how do you talk about his technique of simultaneity? the use of specialist language? multiple voicings? my experience with this novel has been a long one. i got my copy in 2012, when its reputation was just starting to be rehabilitated online. i think i paid around $50 for a signed first edition, which was then the cheapest copy available. i tried reading it, got around 400 pages in, and gave up, having not been ready for it. six years later, after becoming interested in mcelroy again, i drove to my parents’ house to pick up my copy, this time determined to get through the whole thing. i read it obsessively for around five weeks, flipping back through chapters, reading page-long sentences again and again, researching Shiprock, the Navajo people, Chilean political history, second wave feminism, etc. at times, as i had been lead to expect, i was exhausted by it. totally confused, bored, frustrated. but at others, i was astonished. barely able to contain my outrage that such a unique achievement has been buried and allowed to go out of print. during its final stretch i read this book in a kind of dream state, totally surrendered to it. i read a recent (one star) review on this website that claimed mcelroy was attempting to write beautiful, graceful prose, and failing on both counts. i think if you approach mcelroy’s writing expecting it to have the musicality of william gass or the lyricism of faulkner then you will be disappointed. there are extended sections in women and men where the prose isn’t only jarring to the ear, it is visually ugly: the cold times new roman typeface is littered with semicolons, erratic capitalisations, brackets, graphs, and jargon. but this isn’t baroque literature, and it’s not modernist stream of consciousness either. part of mcelroy’s project in this novel is to illustrate how the panoply of discourses in modern life (economics, mythology, geology, neuroscience, feminism, and Marxism to name a few) permeate experience. this isn’t to say that there aren’t breathtaking sections, or that mcelroy is excessively cerebral (well, you might disagree). some of the later sections in particular contain some of the most powerful writing i’ve ever read. but the prose is always attempting to accommodate a number of voices at any one time, and is almost never singular. while this was at first baffling to me, the long term effect was like nothing else i’ve experienced in reading fiction. it was due to, and not in spite of, the book’s nonlinearity and radical approach to form that i felt it take shape in my mind and body. this is not to say that mcelroy’s achievement in women and men is exclusively aesthetic. it’s one thing to hybridise the language of specialist disciplines, it’s another to do so to specific ends. i think mcelroy has developed his particular style with a view to making the reader reckon with the unique epistemological problems of our age. while the concept of the “colloidal unconscious” might seem kind of ridiculous out of context, the way it is used as metaphor in this book is deeply profound. mcelroy understands that the peculiar quality of scientific discourse is its pretense to “unconcealing” the truth. but how can we know the truth of another’s experience? with keynesian economics so deeply ingrained in the speech of everyday life, how do its logics encroach upon interpersonal relationships? how can we know a stable sense of self while living with capital’s rupturing of temporality (“and isn’t this hard when we ourselves are always becoming ourselves”)? the book does have failings. if you have read any of the “plot summaries” you’ll know that it supposedly takes as its protagonists jim mayn, a business/tech journalist, and grace kimball, a feminist who runs a “body-self” workshop, and that it investigates the nexus between women and men during the second wave feminism of the 1970s. i think this is a wishful and generous misreading of (or reading into) the book. while grace kimball is the subject of one long early chapter, the remainder of the book is almost exclusively concerned with jim mayn. though the two characters have countless connections, grace receives very little screen time. not only that, but mcelroy frequently reduces the feminist movement to the butt of a joke, depicting kimball’s workshop as an absurd and politically performative space and ridiculing the movement with the workshop’s “cunthooks” (coathooks) and indulgent naked confessionals. in his recent article in the paris review on this book, adam dalva asked mcelroy about his portrayal of feminism, to which the author responded that during the period when he was writing the book the feminist movement had impacted his personal life (doesn’t specify how), and that he had “terrible anger” towards some women similar to those depicted in women and men. this anger is palpable in certain sections of the book, and clashes with its prevailing spirit of generosity and fascination towards human struggle. of course, second wave feminism was plagued with issues (some of which we have inherited), and deserves criticism; but it is virtually the only subject that the book blindly satirises without offering any redemptive insight. it is one of the book’s failures that it sets itself up as an examination of the relations, connections and distances between women and men (or women-and-men), but then ultimately deprives the feminist movement of dignity. the question of whether i would recommend women and men to anybody seems kind of redundant. if you’re here, you probably know whether or not it’s for you. you will probably have to pay more than you would like to, but if you want to read it, you will. questions as to whether it is too long or too hard or too weird are besides the point in the face of a novel like this: women and men just is. despite its failings, in a world as hellish as this one it’s a miracle that it exists at all. it deserves to be remembered, but most of all it deserves to be read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brent Hayward

    Verging on indecipherable, but mesmerizing and a way to look at people and cities and the machination thereof in ways you never have before. There's nothing that can prepare you for the experience of reading this - except maybe a few tabs of acid. Verging on indecipherable, but mesmerizing and a way to look at people and cities and the machination thereof in ways you never have before. There's nothing that can prepare you for the experience of reading this - except maybe a few tabs of acid.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    i might have rated this book higher if i didn't resent it so much. it's not that it is bad exactly, if it were even half the size it is it i would probably think it merely mediocre. it's easy to see the raptures this book induces in its readers, readers with whom my tastes are largely in line. i waited years for this reprint, its one of the most expensive books i've ever bought, and i spent almost a month reading it. a huge (almost the hugest) difficult (supposedly the most difficult) disappeared i might have rated this book higher if i didn't resent it so much. it's not that it is bad exactly, if it were even half the size it is it i would probably think it merely mediocre. it's easy to see the raptures this book induces in its readers, readers with whom my tastes are largely in line. i waited years for this reprint, its one of the most expensive books i've ever bought, and i spent almost a month reading it. a huge (almost the hugest) difficult (supposedly the most difficult) disappeared due to underappreciation (this one is undeniable) postmodern meganovel, that form i love so much, this should have been perfect for me. first of all, mcelroy's prose strikes all the wrong notes. he is clearly trying for grace and beauty but missing in a way the just grinds on you, there is no elegance. it is like discordant noise. his much vaunted difficulty (i wasn't much more challenged than usual by a novel) is just a result of him compounding many sentences into one. now i'm a fan of the long breathless sentence, but mcelroy just can't manage it and again it simply becomes annoying. there is no subtlety to this book, there is nothing below the surface because mcelroy has such a large surface he needs to throw everything at it to fill it, so we have the constant grinding repetition of the key phrases (people r matter, an articulated etc) everything is stated and there is no hidden heart, everything is laid out immediately. nothing is ever hidden only to be revealed, there is only the stating of more and more facts that never actually advance on each other, it could have ended at any point. for all mcelroy's claim to community this is a very limited novel, everything links back to mayn, every character seems to exist in a void populated only by the couple of other characters they are linked to. mcelroy's overfocus on mayn at the expense of the titular women (or at least his supposed feminine counterpart grace kimball) would be a point of criticism were kimball's scenes not so spectacularly uncomfortable in their handling of her feminism. the feminism itself and many other factors make it feel dated in a way the best meganovels dont, and its dated in a bad way rather than the neutral one of being an image of its time. and seeing as its about the 70s but was published in the 80s it must have been dated the moment it arrived. i read night soul a few months ago and was largely unsatisfied, i found the prose there clunky too in its striving towards grace. but i attributed this to short stories not being mcelroy's field, like pynchon i assumed they were testing grounds for the real combat of the novels. that book was more bearable for its brevity. just the huge passages of nothing were unbearable, there was no aspect of the narrative i welcomed a turn to, they were all tiresome and empty. i just cannot stress enough how much i wanted to like this book, how much i wanted the revelation to strike of its brilliance, how eager i was for this to happen still as i forced myself through turgid torrents about the goddamn east far eastern princess, and goddamn mayn not doing anything, and his goddamn childhood and grace goddamn kimball. i wanted to love the hermit inventor of new york, but couldn't bring myself to. mcelroy circles a vast number of ideas but does nothing with them. the recurrence (at the very edges) of turn of the 20thc trade union conflicts and the chicago worlds fair simply made me miss against the day, and wish i was reading it again already. mcelroy writes like pynchon without feeling or depth. he understands there must be science, and there must be lots of characters and cutting back and forth, and a concern for obscure political evils, but he has no verve, no sense of beauty, he doesn't even seem a little horny when he writes about sex, he exhibits hardly any feeling at all. one thing i have found interesting about mcelroy in my reading around him is that in his interviews he seems to talk exactly how he writes, that strange loppy dragging back and forth. i dont know what this means but its there. i henceforth renounce mcelroy and all his works

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dustin

    I just read the synopsis of Woman and Men, and I am in complete awe by it depth and scope, stunned by what the author has apparently achieved with the utmost brilliance! I am VERY interested in this massive tome, I simply MUST read it! Thank you, once again, Aloha!! Also courtesy of Aloha, in regards to Post-Modernism: "In short, postmodernism deconstructs everything such that you're forced to take a second look at what you normally take for granted. We're on auto-pilot with our preconceived no I just read the synopsis of Woman and Men, and I am in complete awe by it depth and scope, stunned by what the author has apparently achieved with the utmost brilliance! I am VERY interested in this massive tome, I simply MUST read it! Thank you, once again, Aloha!! Also courtesy of Aloha, in regards to Post-Modernism: "In short, postmodernism deconstructs everything such that you're forced to take a second look at what you normally take for granted. We're on auto-pilot with our preconceived notions. It takes us out of our comfort zone and take a closer look at things..."

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