Upon finishing my second reading of Peace, I attempted to envision how I might write a review that encompassed all of the Wolfean brilliance that, I believe, finds its fullest, richest expression in this single volume, in which Alden Dennis Weer recounts his life in overlapping, elliptical narratives. I thought about how I might trace themes of memory and unrequited love and the echoes of allusive imagery that sound throughout history, the occidental canon, the human unconscious, and the Wolfe oeuvre. If it is not completely clear, based on the turgid writing of this opening paragraph or the superficiality of my other reviews of Wolfe’s work, I am entirely unprepared to do so.
I am perfectly prepared to gush about Gene Wolfe, Fantasy/Science Fiction writer of immense nuance and skill, the fascinating interviewee, the prose stylist. I can offer pithy, vapid assertions masquerading as observations, such as: Peace would be on many required Lit Analysis 1101 reading lists had it only been written in Spanish (I am still bitter over all of the Marquez I was forced to read as an undergrad). And while it is tricky business to assume that any character’s words stand in for those of the author, I could pinpoint quite a few from Peace that I might appropriate for myself. (“Mosquitoes are all Baptists anyways.”) And I’m plenty willing to drop scary names with whom Wolfe ought to be mentioned, and to do so in a tone that’s all but combative. Faulkner, Borges, Nabokov, Proust!
But none of this says anything of substance about the author or his remarkable novel. And I’m not sure that anything I write actually could. A synopsis might read something like: Alden Dennis Weer -- child, juice concentrate magnate, old man, treasure hunter, possible murderer, ghost -- ponders the events of his life, written in vignettes, from within a house of seeming infinite rooms modeled after those he lived in throughout his life. And (here comes another of those pithy non-observations) Citizen Kane is about William Randolph Hearst and Moby Dick is about a bunch of guys chasing a whale.
It must be quite obvious that this is not a review in the traditional sense. It is a recommendation. Wolfe is one of those authors whose writing speaks for itself, and doesn’t need me to explain or defend it. But I do want more people to read Wolfe’s books. I badgered at least a couple of friends for months (over a year, in one case) into reading stories or novels that I knew they would like. I don’t know which of my closer friends would like Peace; it’s a mélange of southern gothic elements and Proustian ruminations on the nature of stories and memory set in a bucolic mid-west that’s both eerie and ethereal. Most of my friends (and myself, I admit) tend towards books about dudes who hit dragons, wizards and each other with sharp things.
Neil Gaiman said that his second reading of Peace obliterated his first reading’s interpretations. My second reading was less dramatically different, but I still found myself sitting agape at details that I missed before. It’s like looking at a Norman Rockwell painting while images pop out at you, “Magic Eye” style, of murders and deceptions and other unromantic though terribly human behaviors. Peace is a beautifully written, scary, nuanced, insightful book. And since I have once again devolved into gushing about its author, I will leave this not-a-review here, with a recommendation for those who don’t venture far from mainstream, generic fantasy, and those who judge fantasy only by its mainstream, generic exponents: you really ought to read Peace.