three by ann quin

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a fascinating but subtly disappointing book, ann quin’s THREE is a formally radical novel. arguably more daring in form than her contemporary b. s. johnson–with whom she’s often lumped partly because they committed suicide in the same year–she’s here also more cagey and unfortunately more predictable.

the style innovations are daring. the book consists of several modes: a line-breaking poem-like stream of consciousness; a fast-cutting, alternating POV style that reminded me of donald breckenridge’s 6/2/95; and, reminiscent of both sarraute and gaddis, a skillful use of dialogue alone to reveal character.

and yet this book, which focuses on the bizarre love triangle of one airless bourgeois marriage and an interloping free-spirit femme fatale, somehow rang hollow. maybe because it was unclear how much of it was a critique of the malaise of middle-class marriage and how much of it was a self-pitying confessional narrative from that state. or: somehow it’s central content–which did seem central, not auxiliary–crippled the serious play of its language games. so i was left with a dull feeling, a disappointment at unfulfilled potential.

course i could be wrong. and the destabilized, unreliable narrative and narrators might have hidden reward which alluded me. plan to try her BERG soon down the line. despite what disappointed–another review called its style a “muted lyricism”–it’s definitely worth checking out.

a good overview of her work.

and, from an interview quoted here:

“Form interests me, and the merging of content and form. I want to get away from the traditional form. . . . I write straight onto my typewriter, one thousand words an hour but half will in the end be cut out. When I write the first creating parts of my book I can go on for three hours without a stop. When revising I can work up to seven hours, with breaks.”

buy from dalkey or find at your local library.

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