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Tours of the Black Clock by Steve Erickson

I'm not at all happy with the following piece; it doesn't do Steve Erickson, or his signature novel, Tours of the Black Clock, justice, not even close, but I'm going to leave it up anyway, because I'm confident I'm going to "get it," Erickson's novel (his third--his third that was published, that is), Tours of the Black Clock, one of these days.

First Printing, 1989
I'm confident that something will click in my remembrance of the read, in its rich hallucinogenic imagery, and while I'm doing something else, the laundry, the dishes, that a connection, a dingdingding will be made, much in the same way, perhaps, as when after years of unconscious meditation on The Matrix -- perhaps also the closest approximation in content I could make in comparison to Tours of the Black Clock -- a light brightened abruptly in my interpretive awareness, and I'll catch a glimpse, likewise, of what Erickson, the finest abstract novelist alive, was after in this visually stunning and incredibly visceral book of his, Tours of the Black Clock.  A book so alive the pages practically pulsate, it's narrative so redolent in DNA it's prose might as well breathe.  Feel that, turning its pages?  Until I see that mind awakening dawn clearly, however, I'll let the piece below remain, a testament to the process one must undergo sometimes, toward reaching (or reading) comprehension.


Reading Steve Erickson's novels are like reading the scripts of hallucinations, nightmares, acid trips.  Not that I know much about the latter, but I can imagine.

Tours of the Black Clock is surreality blended with reality, seamlessly.  And yet it's difficult distinguishing which is which, as you're reading.  Because it's so dreamlike, Black Clock leaves itself open to varied interpretations, thus making it, for me, nearly impossible to follow.  Tours of the Black Clock started losing me -- my understanding of its plot -- around page 175. I enjoyed reading it, but I just couldn't quite fathom what the hell was happening as it happened, or understand what the disjointed happenings that were happening, meant, in relation to one another.  The plot pivoted around our hero meeting Hitler, as the SS took him under its wings, but then he never met him.  Were they dreams?  Did he really get flown into Europe, or was that his overactive imagination?  And why the obsession with Geli, Hitler's mistress?  Hadn't she died or disappeared before she was even born?  What's with the River Styx allusion at the book's beginning?  Was our hero dead already too?

Erickson's Tours of the Black Clock is a mysterious tour de force for sure, about ... something.  I'm just not sure what!  Is it some dark WWII underworld or alternate universe we've entered to explore?  A worm hole?  A time warp through history?  All of the above?  And more?

Normally, here, I'd say something like, "Guess I better go read it again," but I'm positive I'd be just as mystified.  Not that I'm complaining.  I live for this kind of shit.  And it's some good shit.  Shit that's weird and twisted, trippy shit.

Erickson's holographic visions, despite my interpretive confusion, are still worth exploring; they're fun the way that being lost in a labyrinth is fun.  I don't really care if a maze has any meaning do I?  The fun is the adventure in figuring out a way through the maze, not necessarily in knowing what the designer of the maze meant when he or she designed it.Erickson's language is exquisite, so he's easily forgiven for being so hard to follow.  His characters, while believable, real flesh and blood creations, seemed also like composites, but signifying what? (or whom?).  I don't know if Erickson's later novel, The Sea Came in at Midnight, while as surreal as Black Clock, I found more accessible.  More comprehensible.  Therefore, more satisfying, even though Tours of the Black Clock is widely considered Erickson's best.

Understanding Steve Erickson, I think, in a nutshell, is like the reading equivalent of attempting to put a jigsaw puzzle of at least one thousand pieces together blindfolded, and doing so in the time it would take you to read a difficult, complexly convoluted 300 page novel.  Make sense?


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