Madden, David (Vol. 15)
Harlequin's Stick—Charlie's Cane is a playful instrument, an academic toy. This is not to say the work is unimportant. The movie industry was based upon scientific, optical toys, such as the zoetrope. What David Madden has given us is a gift in the form of a scholarly peepshow…. (p. 285)
Mr. Madden's volume comes at a good time. It seems obvious, and appropriate to his [subjects, Commedia dell'Arte and the silent movie], that Mr. Madden has a great sense of fun and entertainment. In his fear of boring his audience with scholarly detail, he has edited his work to a very fast-moving form. In the chapter, The Body, Language of Gesture, for instance, he has allowed only six pages to cover this complex area. Of these, three are devoted to eight pictures. Of the remaining three, there are four short paragraphs totalling thirty-four lines—not much more than a respectable footnote for many scholarly works. Mr. Madden does not give a full-bodied text, but rather a preview or scenario. Its value is experiential. In lieu of a long, profound, scholarly work, Mr. Madden has created a little thing of delight, a peepshow volume. (p. 286)
Bob Fleshman, "Reviews: 'Harlequin's Stick-Charlie's Cane'," in The New Orleans Review (© 1977 by Loyola University, New Orleans), Vol. 5, No. 3, 1977, pp. 285-86.
James Park Sloan
David Madden's "Pleasure-Dome" is …, in its way, a meditation on time and change, and in the manner of the New Fiction it combines profligate storytelling with reflections on the storytelling process….
Fortunately for the reader, David Madden's material is matched by his art. Where but in the New Fiction could one find a voice to describe the Tweetsie Railroad, a product of the entrepreneurial imagination in which tourists submit to a mock robbery for the benefit of the Community Chest? Mr. Madden has the local idiom down to the last "I-God," and his manic plot inventions defy recapitulation. Lurking in the background are the bulldozers of an encroaching trash culture ready to obliterate the authentic scenes and artifacts of folk myth, but "Pleasure-Dome" is a delightfully loony restoration.
James Park Sloan, "Three Novels: 'Pleasure Dome'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 11, 1979, p. 14.∗
"The unmoonlit life is not worth living." So says Lucius Hutchfield, narrator of Pleasure-Dome, and that is perhaps as straightforward a thematic statement as can be gleaned from this odd, lyrical, quite wonderful novel. Unlike most contemporary fiction, it is neither urban in setting nor psychological in attack. It shares the first-person narrator of much recent work, but it does not share its almost obsessive concern with the narrator's inner life. Lucius' personal growth through his adventures is certainly noteworthy, but the tales are not just an excuse for his reactions to them. They are vigorous, full-blooded, and in need of no external "justification."…
The title is a metaphor for the world of story-telling into which Lucius invites many characters in the novel, and the reader as well. At first I thought the title was clumsy, and too "literary" for the matter of the book. Now it seems quite right. It is perhaps analogous to Sylvia Plath's "bell jar." Here the pleasure-dome produces similar distortions of fact, but the end result is some kind of better, more human truth. This is a very special experience.
Frank Kelly, "Fiction: 'Pleasure-Dome'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1979 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 39, No. 10, December, 1979, p. 323.
Among other themes, Pleasure-Dome ponders [the] "surrender" of Lucius Hutchfield to the Coleridge syndrome, intoxication by imagination. Lucius is the same young lover of illusion who worked in the movie house that gave David Madden's novel Bijou (1974) its title. Since then he may have expanded his romantic references beyond films and Thomas Wolfe, but he is still hooked on the narcotic of fantasy and its intellectual superior, art.
As he wanders over the ruins of Zara's life and begins fabricating Jesse James stories to amaze a local motorcycle cowboy, Lucius locates the center of Madden's concern in writing a novel that often seems to be about the act of writing a novel….
[The] Pleasure-Dome that captivates Lucius Hutchfield/David Madden is "a zone of being where the facts and illusions of everyday life and the problem of making distinctions between them were irrelevant." So too with this exhilarating novel that starts as one wild yarn after another….
By the time Madden stumbles (accidents, not logic, run Pleasure-Dome) on the Zara Ransom-Jesse James sequence, it's clear that Pleasure-Dome is a writer's notebook of plot possibilities, social observations, narrative lines, character sketches and his own sentiments about the meaning of his craft or art.
The framework of Bucky's rescue from jail holds a few stories meant to be believed, but others are...
(The entire section is 483 words.)