Given that the local school district has removed this book from its school library and curriculum and seeing as I’ve defended the school board’s right to do so and have taken issue with use of the word “ban” to describe the school board’s actions (see this and here). Since I already owned the book, it seemed a topical time to read it. And…. meh.
It’s a novel about a writer writing about his experiences in Dresden during the firebombing in World War II. That’s the frame story: a writer has produced this book and has dealt with his compatriot who was also there. Then, there’s the text of the novel, where a survivor of Dresden has come unstuck in time and goes back and forth between the past and the present and who was kidnapped by aliens and kept in a zoo for a number of years on their planet, where he copulated with a porn actress. This novel-inside-the-novel was a successful optometrist until he started expressing his belief in the extraterrestrials, who can see things in the fourth dimension and to whom all moments are equally present or some such, through newspaper letters to the editor and appearances on late-night radio. So maybe he’s going crazy instead of it being a science fiction book. Also, the writer of the novel inserts himself into the novel by pointing himself out when the narrator of the novel-inside-the-novel meets him.
So I can see why this was popular on campuses: it’s a messed up novel that has the play-within-the-play thing going on, an anti-war message at the time of an unpopular war, and enough oblique things open to interpretation to make smooth sledding for students or tenure-track scholars who need to publish. That’s not to say it’s unentertaining and a lightweight read. It is. But I’m unsold on its presence on any list of serious literature. No doubt I did not enjoy it as its previous owner, Mr. J. Tobacco.