“Dhalgren” is my windmill. Help me!

I’ve tried to read Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany multiple times. The first time, I made it about 60 pages in. This time (the fourth time), I’m about 180 pages in, and I’m dragging. What is it that makes this book such a classic to so many? Can you help me? If you love this book, I’d love to know what you loved about it, and why. I don’t mind spoilers. Honestly, I’d welcome them. I want to know what’s happening here because I don’t understand it.

I find the book, so far, almost incomprehensible. And maybe that’s the point? Maybe I’m supposed to wonder what’s happening and why. But if so, great! I’ve already gotten the payoff from the book. Is that right? What else is there going on.

Again, this is a genuine ask: please help me get it. Tell me what you loved. Tell me about the book. Share your wildest theories. Help me figure it out, because I want to finish it. I’ve been tilting at this windmill too long, and have tried to read it so often. Please, please help!

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4 thoughts on ““Dhalgren” is my windmill. Help me!

  1. I do love this book, though I realize it just doesn’t work for many people. Here’s how I introduced my review of it at SciFiMind.com –
    “Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany seems to have many detractors as a work of science fiction but I find it a powerful portrait of a fractured mind, of a poet in dystopia, of a city broken the way its main narrator feels he might be breaking. Known mostly as the Kid, because he has forgotten his name and he looks much younger than he is, the narrator struggles not just to write his poems but to understand the relationship between writing, his mind and the world around him.

    In a lyrical, almost incantatory opening section, a nameless young man meets a shadowy woman who asks him where he is going. He doesn’t know his purpose, other than to survive each moment with his consciousness intact. The strange woman has sex with him, draws out a bit of his background. Though he’s forgotten his name, he recalls many fragments of his life.” …

    There are definitely places where the novel bogs down a bit, but Delany’s writing, I think, is worth getting through, even in the slow spots.

    • J.W. Wartick says:

      Thank you for taking the time to explain! I think it’s rough because I honestly don’t like to work hard to read my scifi. But I’ll keep pushing on this one.

  2. socrates17 says:

    I agree with John Folk-Williams above, and especially regarding the “incantatory” prose. I read for prose style more than for plot or characters or anything else, which is why my favorites include R.A. Lafferty & Cordwainer Smith, and Dhalgren contains Delany’s best prose. Really, it’s an epic poem as much as a novel. A modern Paradise Lost. I find myself melting into the prose. It’s hallucinatory. Gorgeous.

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