December 9, 2015

Aesthetically Engineered Confusion and Gene Wolfe

I just finished the second novella in Gene Wolfe's collection of three novellas, The Fifth Head of Cerebus. It is called, "'A Story' by John V. Marsch." I have no idea what to make of this tale. It is filled with ambiguities. Attempting to paraphrase the plot seems trite, a disservice to the narrative technique and style, which I would described as "aesthetically engineered confusion." Let me try: the novella seems to treat the spirit quest of a pre-technological humanoid named Sandwalker and his struggle to become a friend of the Shadow Children, a mysterious race who exists on multiple dimensions. Although it is frustrating, I recommend the story and its worth your effort. I was constantly in a state of confusion, but not the confusion of a story badly told but an invigorating and challenging confusion that always seemed just about to evaporate (although it never does). Although Wolfe is a science fiction writer, I think his novella is comparable to a proto-modernist work like Henry James The Turn of the Screw. Both tales cannot be easily interpreted.