AFTER EIGHT NOVELS, TWO NONFICTION BOOKS and a vast body of journalism, Steve Erickson ought to be more celebrated than he is: his books are applauded by everyone from Don DeLillo to Thomas Pynchon, and those who read him know how thrilling his work can be, yet he remains, to some extent, under recognized. That he happens to be one of our most important writers only makes this sorry state of affairs all the more painful.
There are several reasons for Erickson’s relative lack of mainstream recognition. His fiction is difficult to define: it has been called by turns — or sometimes all at once — science fiction, slipstream, fabulism, surrealism, magic realism, and postmodernism. Each of these might describe some aspect of his writing at the expense of the whole. The last descriptor in particular, coupled with a glowing blurb from Thomas Pynchon on his 1985 debut Days Between Stations, has been a mixed blessing, placing the writer in a camp associated with formal experimentation, ideological indifference, and intellectual detachment. Erickson’s fiction may in fact be inventive, but it’s never detached, and it is relentlessly beautiful; it comes charged with a great deal of lyricism, a subtle and sure-footed grace. I can think of few authors that inject otherwise very intellectual writing with such high doses of emotion, a mixture which, I suspect, baffles some readers and confounds others who like their cerebration dry.
Erickson does impose certain demands on his readers, although his narrative complexity and cultural references tend to ebb upon casual perusal. His novels have a natural, deceptively accessible flow, even as the narrative threads tend to spiral in multiple directions, crossing and re-crossing one another. Veiled autobiographic allusions, more than actual references, abound: a character named Steve Erickson from Arc d’X is an anomaly in this respect. And while his books are never serial in a real sense (with the exception of Our Ecstatic Days, a direct sequel to The Sea Came In At Midnight), subsequent novels at times recycle characters, places, or situations from previous ones — though often treating these familiar elements only in passing, slightly altered, or viewed from a different perspective.
Erickson’s themes also tend to recur and entwine in various permutations. Sight, visions, photographs, and cinema figure centrally in all his books. Maps often chart shifting geographies, real and imaginary. And Los Angeles occupies a very special place in Erickson’s topography. There are in his books pockets of space that exist outside time, and pockets of time that exist outside space. Apocalyptic moments, more unveiling than annihilating, flash by or persist. And if Thomas Pynchon and E. L. Doctorow are perhaps the only other contemporary writers who have so purposefully interrogated America’s history and present, Erickson has equipped his questioning with a singular tenderness, frequently distressed and aching. All these markers and then some are present in These Dreams of You, one of Erickson’s best books....read more