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American Genius: A Comedy [Paperback]

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Item description for American Genius: A Comedy by Lynne Tillman...

The National Book Critics Circle Award-finalist author of No Lease on Life presents a Jane Austen-style parable for the twenty-first century in which the members of a scholarly colony struggle with competing values. Original.

Publishers Description
Lynne Tillman's previous novels have won her both popular approval and critical praise from such literary heavyweights as Edmund White and Colm Tóibín. With American Genius, her first novel since 1998's No Lease on Life, she shows what might happen if Jane Austen were writing in 21st-century America. Employing her trademark crystalline prose and intricate, hypnotic sentences, Tillman fashions a microcosm of American democracy: a scholarly colony functioning like Melville's Pequod. In this otherworld, competing values — rationality and irrationality, generosity and selfishness, love and lust, shame and honor — collide through a witty narrative, cycling through such disparate tropes as skin disease, chair design, and Manifest Destiny. All this is folded into the narrator's memories and emotional life, culminating in a séance that may offer escape and transcendence — or perhaps nothing. Grand and minute, elegiac and hilarious, Lynne Tillman expands the possibilities of the American novel in this dazzling read.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   292
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6" Height: 8"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 28, 2006
Publisher   Soft Skull Press
ISBN  1933368446  
ISBN13  9781933368443  

Availability  0 units.

More About Lynne Tillman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Lynne Tillman is a novelist, short story writer, and critic. Her fiction includes the novels Haunted Houses, Motion Sickness, Cast in Doubt, and No Lease on Life, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction. Tillman's art and literary criticism has been published in Artforum, Frieze, Aperture, Nest, the Village Voice, The Guardian, Bomb, and The New York Times Book Review. She has written stories for the artists' books and catalogues of a variety of contemporary artists, including Kiki Smith, Juan Munoz, Jessica Stockholder, Barbara Kruger, Roni Horn, and Vik Muniz. Her most recent story collection, This Is Not It, appeared in 2002. Tillman's new novel, American Genius, A Comedy, will be published in October by Soft Skull Press.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Literary
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General
4Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Short Stories > United States

Reviews - What do customers think about American Genius: A Comedy?

Magic Colony  May 19, 2007
Although this novel has a very specific plot that may limit its appeal to wide readership, there is no doubt about the quality of its artistry. Tillman has taken a concept and executed it well. What surprises me is that none of the reviewers on this site or on the book jacket recognize its most obvious inspiration: Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. In Tillman's version of the psychosomatic seeking respite (from the world at large and finding a microcosm of carnival-mirror traits in her artists colony) the world is decidedly 21st century. But the reflections of the protagonist are as human, and therefore timeless, as Mann's. She plays with the flow of time the way Mann did, and uses personal ruminations to reflect both the character of the protagonist and the society from which she is temporarily escaping. Tillman uses the dining hall, bedroom, walking excursions, and seance in ways like Mann did, and with a similar type of wry humor. Her ambitions were less for political symbolism than Mann's. She musters a good dose of talent in her writing. Much recommended for serious readers.
Couldn't connect with the narrator  May 14, 2007
Tillman definitely has some game. Her style is challenging, engaging, and engrossing. However, I don't feel as moved as many of the other reviewers I have read. This might be a sad comment on my own psyche, but.....I just didn't care about the narrator. Tillman's style is superb, and the mystery of the setting was masterfully executed. Still, I just couldn't work up any interest in the life of the narrator. Tillman does a remarkable job of taking you deep inside the mind of her narrator. I just didn't find much of interest once I arrived.
"I heard my name . . ."  Mar 20, 2007
AMERICAN GENIUS draws you in with the dexterity of Scheherezadem so don't plan on doing a lot of other things because hours will go by, and you'll still be there hanging on every word of the mysterious, yet utterly candid narrator, a woman who seems to be on a permanent vacation from the realities of her ordinary life, so that in a way, this is the updated, and very NY version of M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY. But is it a holiday entirely? Or has, perhaps, our narrator stepped outside the bonds of society and is being incarcerated in this strange place, like THE YELLOW WALLPAPER or THE SNAKE PIT? Women have long written about being clapped into one sort of prison or another, but rarely so enigmatically. I dare you to work it out, indeed part of the miracle of the book is seeing, with such inflected pleasure, just how long Tillman can keep up the balancing act of keeping you guessing. For in other ways the world the narrator finds herself in is like one of those artists' colonies one always hears about, where they bring you lunch to the door of your cottage, then tiptoe away so as not to disturb the "genius" within.

Or it could be any sort of other place of temporary lodging, like the inn in Chaucer. "Flee, flee, this sad hotel," Anne Sexton wrote, but in many ways this place suits our narrator, and the other guests or inmates or whatever they are afford her (and us) endless hours of amusement and speculation, just as they did M. Hulot, or Henry James. "I'm not trapped here," she keeps telling us, or maybe she's trying to reassure herself.

Each "guest" has a turn in the sun, each a little lesson in characterization, just the way they share their communal meals, or turn away from each other, or form little alliances that may or may not include our longsuffering artist with the sensitive skin. And yet by the end of the book we may decide that all that characterization aside, only a very few figures remain with us, strong trees on which the spiderwebs have entangled themselves. There is our narrator herself, bemused, sophisticated, and yet nursing childhood hurts and ancestral memories that mark her out as different even to herself--her world defined by how thin her skin is, how tender and how untouched. There's her brilliant father, not so much rapacious as passionately interested in everything except for that which his daughter holds dear. "It was my father who first made me conscious of the cherry on the back of my upper thigh." Thanks, Dad! And there's the Polish cosmetologist, superbly assured, highly skilled, European servility turned on its head to wear the mask of the master. She's great. Most strange of all, most touching, the real-life figure of "Manson Girl" Leslie Van Houten, imprisoned for real after umpteen appeals for parole, her memories of killing Sharon Tate and the rest fading away like spots on gold lame, her personhood turning her into a ghost, an avatar of humiliation, guilt, shame, and yet otherness, the otherness our heroine seems to see as a sort of shadow to her own self, the moon to her sun. Who knows what we might have been capable of if we felt as strongly, or as vacantly, as Leslie Van Houten?

The back of the book compares AMERICAN GENIUS to Tristram Shandy, Moby Dick, Gravity's Rainbow. I don't think so, but I can see what George Saunders and Matthew Sharpe jumped overboard in exactly those ways. Like these classic novels, AMERICAN GENIUS plays with time--slowing it down, making it jump hoops, negating it on the one hand while reifying it on the other--the way a prisoner does, marking the days scrawled in charcoal on the wall of his cave or cell. The long sentences with which our narrator marks time will resound in your head every time you try to put down this wonderfully achieved novel, and you'll be imitating Tillman next time you try to open your mouth and explain, just what it is that happened that made you so strange and so bereft.
more than skin deep  Nov 16, 2006
The magician who appears near the end of this novel reminds the other characters that magic is all about misdirection. That describes the novel's technique as well. Our neurotic narrator obsesses over her skin, and sometimes fabric---the surfaces. But then she'll experience sudden eruptions of painful memory or vivid insight, usually tossed off as asides on every topic from art history to childhood pets. Our narrator (Helen, we eventually learn) complains about her sensitive skin, but what we're really exploring here is a sensitive psyche, a brilliant mind almost afraid of thinking. As the book begins, it's unclear whether she's living in some kind of mental institution or an artists' colony. The fact that we can't immediately tell is an example of the sly dry humor present throughout this beautifully written novel.

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