Hortense Calisher

The Fiction of Hortense Calisher by Kathleen Snodgrass (Google Books)

Calisher at The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Works of Hortense Calisher at the Authors Guild

Calisher’s political activism – co-signed letters to NYRB

Joyce Carol Oates reviewing Calisher’s novel, The Mysteries of Motion:

“Mysteries of Motion” is remarkable in its scrupulous attention to the details, both technological and psychological, of space flight: the sensations of liftoff and an attempted docking; the malaise of nongravity (“Now we desert into an element where the body can never be quite natural again”); the finicky attention to food, drink, hot water, comfort; the commingled wonder, apprehension, excitement, boredom; the necessary claustrophobic focusing upon one’s fellow travelers. Space travel begins to seem not at all visionary but merely practical, inevitable. Earth as the humanists would know it is finished. Gilpin wonders, as we do, “why even ordinary citizens still relegated so much of what was happening in the world to science fiction. They themselves were fiction, to the scientists.”

As the fated Citizen Courier approaches its destination—as the novel confronts its series of surprising climaxes—Miss Calisher’s prose becomes increasingly economic, urgent, surrealistic. Only one passenger goes mad, but all share in the hallucinatory nature of their predicament. As the novel ends, a mechanical failure prevents the spaceship’s landing. It orbits the space habitat, its passengers awaiting rescue, futilely or not they cannot know. Gilpin broods over the arcane term “Psychopannychy … All-night sleep of the soul; a state in which (according to some) the soul sleeps between death and the day of judgment.” Terror and optimism alternate. Gilpin’s logbook is addressed to us in increasingly incoherent language (“broken time, broken language, broken lives always fusing—breaking the mold?”). Long after the journey has ended for the reader, the Citizen Courier’s eloquent voices linger in the mind, haunting and prophetic. “If we are not dead—we are forestalled,” Gilpin observes, speaking, it might be surmised, for us all.

“Are we the country behind you, or the one before?” Gilpin asks rhetorically at the end of the novel and (perhaps) the end of his life. These voyagers set out in search of an ideal, a new civilization. And the fact that they find it difficult, as we all no doubt would, to abandon their earthly concerns, does not in Miss Calisher’s mind diminish the heroism of their attempt.

“Mysteries of Motion” is as demanding a novel as Miss Calisher’s “False Entry” and “The New Yorkers,” but its rewards are well worth the effort.   [more]

 

From Holcombe B. Noble at the New York Times:

Hortense Calisher, the novelist and short-story writer whose unpredictable turns of phrase, intellectually challenging fictional situations and complex plots captivated and puzzled readers for a half-century, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 97 and lived in Manhattan.  [more]

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