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July 29, 1992 - Image 7

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 1992-07-29

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly - 7

The Essential Ellison
Harlan Ellison
Morpheus International
Where can you get New York street gangs, post-apocalyptic vi-
sions of the future, dogs, God, and musings on violence in movies, all
in one volume?
The Essential Ellison is a thirty-five-year retrospective of the
author's work, including several of his best short stories, essays, and
an unproduced screenplay. Its thousand pages are a representation of
an extremely diverse career.
It is difficult to characterize Ellison as a writer - he has written
scripts for "Twilight Zone," a novel about the early days of rock
music, film.reviews, and graphic novels. Much of his work contains
elements of the genre that is still often labeled with the archaic terms
It is difficult to characterize Ellison as a writer - he
has written scripts for "Twilight Zone," a novel about
the early days of rock music, film reviews, and graphic

Two by Toni Morrison
A dizzying 1920s story of betrayal and jealousy
Jazz oppressions instituted generations that there is more to free will than
Toni Morrison ago formed as a result of slavery. making up ones mind. As the nar-
We would normally assume to rator says in the closing pages of
Knopf understand a situation more fully the novel, "Something is missing
The conflict presented in the through detail. Why does Joe kill there. Something rogue. Some-
opening pages of Toni Morrison's Dorcas and why does he go rela- thing else you have to figure in
Jazz is something we can under- tively un- b e f o r e
stand; it is simple and recogniz- p u n -They escape the shackles that held you can
able. Joe Trace has an affair with i s h e d ?them in misery and eventually pitted figure it
the beautiful and saucy Dorcas (a Why doesthem against one another. They 0 ut.
seventeen year old woman half V i ol e tprove that human beinges do not Tha t
his age) and a wedge is driven s t a b s o m e -
between he and his wife, Violet. Dorcas as cling to misery, though misery may thing is
Both members of this inner-city, she lies in cling to humans. the past.
Afro-American couple turn to vio- her cas- I n

"science fiction" or "horror," but it would be a mistake to stereotype lence in order to purge a jealousy ket? some ways Jazz is about no
his writing in such a way. Even when he's using alien worlds and spurred by betrayal. We are given a thousand rea- ing to figure it out. It is
But infidelity and murder alone sons, but there is no single reason remembering the tragedy o
vampires, his stories' essence always involves the human heart, are nothing new, nor are jealousy and that is where the complica- pression so that we can allow
The short stories are featured in this volume, and rightfully so - or bitterness. The novel's real tions lie. At best, we get to the pass. And it is about change
Ellison is best known for them. The collection includes hard-to-find complications are the culmination point of saying I don't blame them. and Violet let their bitterness
classics such as "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," which is about of a seemingly endless chain of There is an insane sense of jus- and they became happy. Bu
a super-paranoid, omniscient computer named AM that has extermi- events slowly revealed to the tice, or lack of justice that drives is only allowed them in old
nated nearly all of humanity, and spends its time using its god-like reader by an undisclosed, first per- the novel. Somehow over the The forces which temporarily
powers to torment the handful of survivors that are trapped in its son narrator. And the path to their course of its 229 pages, Violet Joe and Violet from embr
bowels. The narrator describes an illusory creature created by AM: pasts is as winding and dizzy as and Joe attain a sense of freedom. themselves still prevent the
"Something moving toward us in the darkness. Huge, shambling, the music that inspired the novel's They escape the shackles that held rator from realizing an indiv
hairy, moist, it came toward us. We couldn't even see it, but there was title. them in freedom.
The ..we also learn that their actions misery The novel ends in the sente
the ponderous impression of bulk, heaving itself toward us ... AM was bulk of a n d "Now. ith that, orri
keying us. He was tickling us. There was the smell of - I heard the story arise out of the attitudes and oppres- eventu- minds us that these forces ar
myself shriek, and the hinges of my jaws ached." t a k e s ions instituted generations ago a 1 1 y at work today. As we n
Also included is "The Deathbird," which is perhaps Ellison's best place in formed as a result of slavery, pitted through Jazz, we see a reco
story. Extending from the birth to the death of humanity, it is a Harlem, t h e m able situation made con
brilliant piece which deals with the nature of God and our place in the 1926. As the narrator explains a against one another. They prove through an increasingly de
universe - revolving around a description of the death of Ellison's murder and the subsequent reac- that human beings do not cling to history. The reader is ma
beloved dog that is certain to have an effect on even the hardest of tions to it, we randomly flash for- misery, though misery may cling identify with the plight of
hearts, ward and back over a period of to humans. Do people always do characters and is then forc
Lastly, there is "A Boy and His Dog," which formed the basis for generations. We see a history take things because they want to do see beyond the surface and ti
the cult film of the same name. It describes the wanderings of an shape and, as we learn the ingre- them? Although, the novel may front the complexities of the
adolescent and his telepathic dog amidst the wastelands of World War dients of Joe and Violet's charac- begin on this stubborn and self- . But don't let the setting foo
ters, we also learn that their ac- interested note, it ultimately sets Jazz is about the present.
IV. Their ongoing quest for sex results in their discovery of Topeka, tions arise out of the attitudes and out to prove it wrong. It seems - Robert
Kansas - transplanted underground to escape the destruction on the
surface. Here, wholesome, apple-pie American ideals survive - and A ra t mu Harvard
are strictly enforced. Then the narrator discovered that he is to be used A rather murky bit of ticism a
as a sperm bank .... f
Interspersed among the stories are the essays. While these prob- prof- watch for it in a coursepack near you
ably do not appeal to as broad an audience as the fiction, they are well-
written and Ellison's style is undoubtedly unique. Perhaps the best Playing in the Dark she also raises many compelling contrasted with images of a
wyto describe them is angry. Most of the essays are tales from Toni Morrison questions like "How does literary pressed other" -become ci
way utterance arrange itself when it let alone convincing. Her r
Ellison's own life, and he lets you know in a rather definite way when Harvard tries to imagine an Africanist to demonize the White Esta
he doesn't like someone. Finest among these is "The Tombs," an " For reasons that should not other?" and "What does the inclu- ment Canon and to label an
excerpt from his fascinating reminiscence about the time he spent need explanation here, until very sion of Africans or African- as" racist" adds to the credi
with a Brooklyn street gang in the 1950s. recently, andregardlessof the race Americans do to and for the of the book, but 90 pages
Ellison is a writer who continues the tradition of great story-tellers of the author, the readers of virtu- work?" nearly spacious enough t
like Ray Bradbury. This volume, with its broad range and large page- ally all of American fiction have But only when Morrison uses equately cover such an ei
count, is a great introduction to one of the most original writers of our been positioned as white. I am specific examples culled from passing topic, forcing Play
time. interested to know what that as- such beloved icons as Poe, the Dark to become bogged

t try-
f op-
w it to
. Joe
s fade
t that
J age.
y held
on re-
e still
de to
ed to
o con-
I you,

an op-
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ing in

Fe up wit Sada Hseia
992,~ * th iigpi.eo anda
eel Hill 90 0 airln far- w
Dra3em rEeFx

-John Morgan sumption has meant to the literary
imagination," writes Toni
' ' Morrison in her preface to Play-
ing in the Dark, a convoluted es-
say that explores the "Africanist"
presence which lurks in the litera-
ture of our traditionally racist so-
Morrison describes this pres-
ence as "evil and protective, re-
bellious and forgiving, fearful and
desirable - all of the self-contra-
dictory features of the self." And

with wordy generalizations. Ulti-
Ultimately, and quite mately, and quite unfortunately,
unfortunately, the essay the essay is not a readable, inter-
is not a readable, inter. esting work by one of contempo-
esting work by one of rary fiction's greatest practioners,
contemporary fiction's but rather a murky bit of criticism
by a Harvard professor that'll un-
greatest practioners, doubtedly end up in some poor
undergraduate's coursepack,
Hemingway and Twain does her skimmed and highlighted the night
argument - basically, that before the final, but never really
Amercian ideals like freedom ap- understood.
pear even more beautiful when -Mark Binelli

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