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by Michael Emerson,Stephen Wright

Born in 1844 in bucolic upstate New York, Liberty Fish is the son of fervent abolitionists as well as the grandson of Carolina slaveholders even more dedicated to their cause. Thus follows a childhood limned with fugitive slaves moving through hidden passageways in the house, and the inevitable distress that befalls his mother whenever letters arrive from her parents. In hopes of reconciling the familial disunion, Liberty escapes--first into the cauldron of war and then into a bedlam more disturbing still. In a vibrant display of literary achievement, Stephen Wright brings us a Civil War novel unlike any other.
Download Amalgamation Polka epub
ISBN: 1419371681
ISBN13: 978-1419375798
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Genre Fiction
Author: Michael Emerson,Stephen Wright
Language: English
Publisher: Recorded Books; Unabridged edition (February 14, 2006)
ePUB size: 1714 kb
FB2 size: 1187 kb
Rating: 4.6
Votes: 816
Other Formats: lrf azw mobi doc

As soon as I read the title I knew I was going to love this book. This is a rollicking, madcap, tune filled songbook of a novel, with Mister Wright loonily letting out all the stops on the big, bad Wurlitzer. This is literature at its craziest, yet at the same time, it's finest, most lyrical and most hightened. I absolutely devoured this book. I read most of it in one sitting, then, when I had one short chapter to go, I let it sit on the table, unread for two days. I truly didn't want it to end.

I also have to admit that Mr Wright is my favorite contemporary author. When I heard that he had a new novel coming out after a ten year hiatus, I about had a teen-age like fit. I've relished his earlier works. Meditations in Green is on the absolutely shortest list of great Vietnam War novels. M31: A Family Romance is....well, I'm not sure what it is, but it's definitely different. And then there's Going Native, Wright's last departure point into the dark night of the American Soul. A book that should be in every serious reader's consciousness by now. It deserves to be labelled a modern classic and discussed in Lit classes across the land.

So I indeed feel that The Amalgamation Polka was worth the ten year wait. Hopefully, this will be the novel that gets Wright the recognition he deserves. The reviews have been uniformly great and he has people like Pynchon and Delilo on the dust jacket, justifiably signing the book's praises.

Wright is an author who will definitely keep you guessing, off balance, but always entertained. Critics compare hime quite often to Delilo, but I would say he's more like Vonnegut or Kesey, but definitely altered. His is an original voice. His is a unique vision. He examines the underbelly of American culture in much the same manner manner as Twain did in Huck Finn. And also like Twain, he shines a harsh light on slavery, that curious institution that brought the nation to its knees in bloody genuflection. Wright even provides us a ratcheted up version of Simon Legree in the figure of Asa Maury, the protagonist's maternal grandfather, who performs weirdly construed experiments on his slaves, in order to "whiten" them. He has to be one of the most vividly etched villains in modern literature.

Which leads to another thought about the novel. It really is a throwback in many ways to books of yore. Tha characters are very much, both literally and figuratively, black and white. There's not much ambiguity about them and I'm sure this is intentional on Wright's part. This is a morality tale. It's also a fairly by-the-numbers picaresque novel, again a la Huck Finn. Young man lights out for the territories (or in this instance, the Civil War) and enters the American heart of darkness. Wright is a genius at blending the realistic with the phantasmagoric. You know as soon as you've begun the first chapter that you're not in Kansas anymore, yet he keeps you grounded enough that you're never going to be too far from it. In fact, a particularly violent passage actually does occur in Kansas territory.

This is Wright's big canvas novel. His Guernica. If you've read any of his earlier works, you know the man can write. He's one of our top lyricists and imagists. One can tell that he spent Flaubertian labors chiseling away on these words and sentences. This is prose at its finest and most luminescent. For a transcendental reading experience, pick up a copy of this wonderful work, as soon as earthly possible.

Pro-slavery Americans used the term amalgamation polka to describe what they saw as the inevitable mixing of the white and black races, should abolition occur. Using this as a backdrop, Wright shows Liberty Fish growing up in an Abolitionist household in upstate New York, when amalgamation fears were common. Then, he shows Liberty fighting for the North at Antietam and foraging with Sherman's army, before joining his grandfather, Asa, in the Carolinas. Asa is a violent and sadistic slaveholder and a literal amalgamist, who has an insane and incestuous vision of eliminating Africans from America.

Unfortunately, the stories of these two characters misfire in combination, as the cipher-like Liberty interacts with his Freddy Krueger-like grandfather. Certainly, Wright creates a plausible coming-of-age narrative about Liberty and his three years of military service during the Civil War. But then, the crazed Asa appears and we see a warped and sadistic Southerner trying to cope with his culture and slavery, as well as his anger at his daughter. In a seminar, a professor might tease out the connections. But as a reading experience, Wright seems to seek resolution of Liberty's story with an implausible and gothic tale. The final third of this book certainly has vivid characters. But it felt unconvincing as Wright desperately sought to find the end of his story.

Nonetheless, Wright's writing is often terrific and even Faulknerian at the end of some chapters. Liberty fighting in the Battle of Antietam (Pages 171-191) is excellent. Still, the story seems arbitrary and bizarre when it's driven by Asa. And Liberty, the protagonist, is as flat as a slogan.
"Wright's title refers to a racist editorial cartoon of the period, which depicted "an amalgamation polka," where whites and blacks dance together in genteel costumes. This was meant to suggest, one presumes, that other mutually enjoyable physical activities might occur between the races later in the evening. Race mixing was the great shibboleth of slavery advocates and segregationists from the dawn of American history almost to our own time and many of the characters in Wright's novel are obsessed with it." Andrew O'Hehir

Stephen Wright is one of my favorite authors. I was introduced to him by my best friend who recommended his book "Going Native". I read this book in almost one sitting ten months ago but left the last chapter until now. I wanted to be able to leave the last chapter for a time when I needed solace and understanding. Who else will tell you that our country is screwed, always has been and always will be. Who else, as in most of his novels, infers that this 'is both the real thing and a merciless parody'? And, who else writes such marvelous prose? Exactly, maybe no one.

Liberty Fish, yes that is his real name, grows up in a house used as a station on the Underground Railroad, but his mother was raised on a large South Carolina plantation and his father is the son of a Northern industrial family that has profited greatly from the slave trade. Liberty's parents want to destroy the institution that made their families rich, and this perversity runs through the book. When Liberty visits the devastated Redemption Hall, his mother's birthplace, and meets his maternal grandfather, Asa Maury, the old man is a bitter, angry, hardened bigot. Yet, faced with the destruction of slavery, he is facing the racial dilemma, and is trying to solve it. Liberty survives the horrors of war at Antietam. He is taken prisoner by the rebels, then deserts from the Union Army to go find grandfather Asa. There he works with his grandfather to escape the collapsing Confederacy and hijack a ship for Brazil, where slavery remains alive and well. This harkens us back to Liberty's childhood where he is educated by a one-eyed former slave named Euclid, taken carousing by his Uncle Potter and sworn into the secret fraternity of pirates by a strange character Fife. Where does this all take us? That journey, my friend, is for you take.

Stephen Wright may see bloodshed and tumult of the Civil War period as good examples of our American madness. Despite the parody or maybe because of it, Stephen Wright gives us a new vocabulary, 'sheconnery', 'buckra, and 'gallinipers'. Fitting words for the occasion. What do they mean? You decide.

One of the characters, a southern lady sums this book up the best 'This war,'" she says to Liberty, "'this horrible evil war, it's never going to end. You do understand that, don't you? Even after it's over it will continue to go on without the flags and the trumpets and the armies, do you understand?'

There is so much to say about this novel. Stephen Wright may be having as much difficulty as we are in understanding what is happening in our world today, but he is able to articulate his thoughts in remarkable prose. I do not have the words to express the mastery of Stephen Wright's prose,nor will I try. Suffice it to say that he has led Liberty to the conclusion that "Life ... makes mongrels of us all." So Very, Very Highly Recommended.
prisrob 1-25-07