A Comic Masterpiece from the Seventies


From the Archive

From Carcanet’s edition of The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium.


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Harry Mathews, who died yesterday at eighty-six, was a prolific contributor to the Review. His fifth book, The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium, was the first novel this magazine ever serialized; it ran in four installments, starting with our Spring 1971 issue. Mathews claimed he was rejected twenty-five times before he found a publisher for it. Reviewing it for the New York Times in 1975, Edmund White called it “a comic masterpiece, as funny as Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, as intricate as Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire … [Mathews] has created a seamless fabric, as tense, light, and strong as stretched silk.” The truth in that assessment is clear from the novel’s opening paragraphs. It opens midsentence: 

… confidence in my words, Twang. I suck my tongue for your chervil-and-lavender flavor.

This afternoon I went to the Beach to see a new hotel, the Brissy St. Jouin. It has been described as the “Naples ultra” of Miami splendor. There is teak sawdust in the Oyster Bar, where I began my tour with a screwdriver; the lobby is decked with much gold. That was all I saw. La Nosherie, the Mannikin Pis rumpus room, and the Jupiter Seaside Fungus Collection had to wait for another visit.

What arrested me, ankle-deep in peacock feathers, was a battery of television sets assembled for the inauguration as a “monument to intercontinental awareness.” Above the lobby fountain, seven sets rose vertically from a spray-shrouded base. On either side of the midmost screen, three others were horizontally aligned, hung by transparent cords from the distant ceiling. No sound from the construction reached the naked ear; but telephones, each equipped with a panel of buttons, connected viewers to the various programs. Stopping to sample this profusion of “light inscribed by light,” I stayed until I had exhausted the repertory.

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