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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Steve Erickson

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To purchase Amnesiascope

Title: Amnesiascope
Author: Steve Erickson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996
Length: 225 pages
Availability: Amnesiascope - US
Amnesiascope - UK
Amnesiascope - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : breezy read, fairly entertaining, without adding up to much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 19/5/1996 Schuyler Ingle
The NY Times C+ 11/6/1996 Michiko Kakutani
San Francisco Chronicle . 7/10/1996 Gary Amdahl
The Washington Post . 26/8/1996 Daniel McMahon

  From the Reviews:
  • "And the point of the book may well be in the ride itself, in the reading of the text, that act of intimacy between writer and reader in which neither can actually know what is happening. I say that because I'm not all that sure what has actually been said, having finished the book, having weathered the logorrhea." - Schuyler Ingle, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)he novel contains passages far more emotionally intimate -- and in some cases, far more engaging -- than anything he has written before. He demonstrates that he's able to write about families and relationships, and that he's also able to find the humor in the absurdities of daily life. Unfortunately, such passages are buried beneath mounds of defensive pontificating, lugubrious recyclings of old sci-fi scenarios and gratuitous tributes to himself and other writers. It would take quite a bit of excavating to remove all this narrative rubble." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Amnesiascope is a mild dystopia. It is set in a vaguely contemporary Los Angeles -- but it is after "the Quake", so the world is even more skewed and shaken-up than usual.
       The narrator is a man very much like Erickson: he struggled for fifteen years before getting his first book published at age 35 (and now has five under his belt), he was a movie reviewer, he's stuck in and on Los Angeles, etc. He remains fairly modest -- which isn't necessarily a good thing. "What can I say ?" he warns early on: "I'm a disappointing character."
       Disappointing perhaps, but he does have some decent tales to tell as he moans on about his life. He has some odd friends, and there are a couple of interesting women in his life (especially Jasper, "the Abyss Walking like a Woman, madness so generic it practically had a bar code on it"). He chances across people -- saving women who try to shoplift his books, stray prostitutes, etc. -- and then loses them (or rids himself of them) similarly easily.
       The narrator has largely de-possessed himself. He doesn't like belongings, and has little use for them. Oddly, then, he gets quite annoyed when his car is stolen (in one of the book's more amusing scenes).
       He claims not to have too good a memory, especially of people, but he does dredge up a lot of memories over the course of his tale.
       Bizarre things happen, which keep the book moving along at a nice pace. There isn't that much focus on the quake-changed world: it is a backdrop, a given. Erickson uses it well to support the stories, without indulging excessively (as almost invariably happens in similarly futuristic novels).
       The narrator documents his writerly and other travails. One of the running jokes is a fictitious review he writes, about what he believes to be a nonexistent movie (The Death of Marat, by Adolphe Serre) -- which then seems to take on a life of its own. It is not an entirely successful joke.
       The narrator also makes a movie -- White Whisper -- dominated by the indomitable Jasper. And there's trouble down at the paper where he works.
       The book meanders and stumbles about. Los Angeles is central to it, of course. "L.A. is all that's left of America the Delirious", and there ain't that much left of L.A. But it's a city that neither the narrator nor Erickson can let go of, for better and worse. Erickson's take on L.A. is an interesting one -- though over the years and the numerous books it also begins to get fairly tired. "L.A. collectivized the American dark", Erickson tells us. Or: "if ever there was a city where history counts for nothing it's Los Angeles". Well, he certainly milks it for all it's worth.
       And, of course: "L.A. surrounds me in amnesiascope." The reader too. There are some fun mind- and memory-games here. Erickson tells some decent anecdotes and little stories and fashions some real characters (though there is a bit much forced quirkiness too). He also writes consistently engagingly, unlike the often ponderous writing in Arc d'X or Rubicon Beach (see our review). The autobiographical take is a decent (though ultimately a bit bitter and unsatisfying) one. And there are cross-references to pieces of other Erickson books, including the beauty known as Catherine in Rubicon Beach. (She is just mentioned incidentally in Amnesiascope, but this and other admirably restrained asides are among the most successful parts of the novel.)
       Melancholy pervades the work. "It isn't an amnesia of the mind I pursue, or an amnesia of the heart; it is rather an amnesia of the psyche that sets me free." It's an odd void he's looking for. Dispiriting. And while he doesn't completely abandon hope, between the bleakness and the amnesiac-aimlessness it can be a bit much to take.
       The tale is enjoyable enough, but doesn't add up to as much as one might hope for or expect. A decent but not fully satisfying read.

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Reviews: Steve Erickson: Other books by Steve Erickson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Steve Erickson was born in 1950. He has written several fairly highly acclaimed novels.

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