A thought on The Death of a Disco Dancer

2.15.12 | | 3 comments

I don’t know that I can add much more than an amen to what both Theric and Scott have written about The Death of a Disco Dancer. Read those two reviews, and if what they have to say grabs you, then get the book.

What’s more, The Death of a Disco Dancer could not be more calculated to appeal to me. It’s non-fussy, humorous literary fiction with a main character who is a male Mormon who came of age in the early ’80s in the American Southwest. And it takes its’ title from a song by the Smiths. A song whose lyrics I quoted in the fake obituary that we had to write for honors English senior year, a move that annoyed my fusty Journalism-trained English teacher, which biased her against me, which means that I, the brat that I was, vowed to force her to give me an ‘A’ grade second semester, which led me to work with texts and language in a way that I never had that intensely before, which led me to experience the high that comes from wielding literary criticism and writing chops in a way that blows people’s minds, an experience, that for good and ill, drove my later academic career, which then led to a certain dis-enchantment with literary criticism proper, which got me to the radical middle, faux-populist, minor- and genre-literature obsessed place I am today. So yeah, my perception is so very skewed in this case.

And yeah, I liked it. A lot. And while I’m not going to write a full review, I do want to note something about the novel. I think I can do that without revealing major or minor spoilers:

Many of the scenes in the book are episodic, meant to provide the flavor of the main character Todd’s experience and add to the realism of the narrative world we enter as readers. The main narrative flow, though, centers around a triangle. At the head of the triangle is Todd’s mom. At the base, opposite each other, but in the same position, are Todd and his grandmother. They are both resentful of the behavioral expectations Todd’s mom has for them. Todd because he is entering adolescence; his grandmother because she is lapsing into dementia, reverting back to her adolescence. Both of them want to just be left alone. They want to exercise their newfound freedom. At the same time, there is part of them that, naturally, needs the love and security that flows down from the mom. Now, these two sides of the triangle that flow down from the mom to the two of them are to be expected, considering the basic situation of the novel.

What makes The Death of a Disco Dancer so interesting is that Clark draws that bottom line of the triangle and connects Todd and his grandmother. Not quite as obvious, but also, perhaps, to be expected. However, the real genius of the novel is how Clark does that: through the nocturnal visits from his dementia-plagued grandmother. The beauty of the triangle formulation is that it leads to a double payoff in the end: the one in relation to him and his grandmother, the bottom of the triangle, is rather obvious, but also keep an eye out also for the payoff in relation his mom, one that comes later in Todd’s life, but that also brings the sides of the triangle into sharper focus. It’s all quite wonderful.

I’d say more, but can’t without verging too far into spoiler territory so I’ll shut up now.

Note: David Clark sent me a complimentary paperback edition of his novel as a thank you for doing the AMV Q&A with him. He offered; I accepted. And, as always, there are very few Mormon market books that I can approach these days that don’t insert me into a welter of conflicts of interest. This is one of those.

3 comments: “A thought on The Death of a Disco Dancer

  1. Jonathan Langford

    Good review. Everything keeps making me add this to my “to-read” list. Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps), that list is already far too long…

    I hear what you’re saying about conflicts of interest. If we all stepped back for criticism to be written for those not conflicted, however, no reviews would ever be written, I suspect — at least in Mormon lit. And I suspect that historically, that’s been true more often than we realize, too: that literary products (even those that attain a large readership) are often the products of fairly small, often well-connected communities.

  2. Th.

    .

    Which is why it’s so important for us to be honest with each other. No one else is going to do it for us.

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