Michael Brodsky Essay - Critical Essays

Brodsky, Michael

Introduction

Brodsky, Michael 1948–

Brodsky is an American novelist and playwright. The Jewish narrator/protagonist of his first novel, Detour, has been compared to that of Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. Brodsky's experimental style combines deconstruction with extensive literary and cinematic allusions. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 102.)

Robert Towers

Detour is an extremely dense, ambitious, and stylistically accomplished first novel by a young intellectual who has written on Svevo and who (on the evidence of this book) enjoys an intimate, frame-by-frame knowledge of every film made by Antonioni, Bergman, Bresson, Buñuel, Chabrol, Fellini, Godard, Hitchcock, Ophuls, Truffaut, Von Sternberg, and Welles. The novel, told in the first person by an unnamed young man, consists of extremely long paragraphs in which a brief sentence or so of inconsequential narration … introduces often more than a thousand words devoted to the analysis, or, more properly, deconstruction, of some impression, thought, or gesture before the leap to the next paragraph….

The insubstantiality of the "I"—of the narrator's self—provides the main psychological (and philosophic) interest of this curious novel. Though he exists and does things in the world, is the son of middle-class Jewish parents who bicker with each other and burden him with obligations, his existence is entirely problematic, always on the point of dissolution or total depletion. To validate his existence, he gnaws on the inside of his lip until it bleeds or bites his forefinger until it too bleeds. He is almost as preoccupied with masturbation as Alexander Portnoy, but the act, often stemming from the anxiety produced by a girl's presence, has little association with pleasure…. Although the novel's dust jacket refers to...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

The Virginia Quarterly Review

As in the cases of Beckett and [Nathalie] Sarraute, two writers whom Brodsky often resembles, the real problem with Detour is the boredom of unraveling its complex texture…. [But] since the novel is very much of a piece, it is difficult to eliminate anything of its labyrinthine shroud without stripping the mummy completely. The more discriminating will conclude that this brilliant but grotesque first effort reveals a very real talent and a very real commitment to experimental writing hiding beneath the interminable subconversation of its Dostoevskian central character.

"Notes on Current Books: 'Detour'," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1979, by The Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 55, No. 2 (Spring, 1979), p. 59.

Daphne Merkin

Michael Brodsky's first novel, Detour, is remarkable precisely because it explores the condition of its own involution—an "I" constantly threatened by its potential for extinction in the face of other, competing "I"s—with an arrogant disregard for anything but the entanglements of that condition…. Perhaps the novel's acute, chronic disengagement is characteristic of the 70s, but it is hard to see where Detour is "about" anything other than its own meticulous, privileged sensibility…. [Brodsky] writes brilliantly, assuredly, but that brilliance cannot be said to have solidified into a style, because it is concerned with something more elementary, with that which predates style: identity. (pp. 453-54)

Detour has to be acknowledged, critically speaking, less for the ways in which it approximates other novels than for the ways in which it departs from them, even fraudulently. Brodsky has unlearned all the age-old, circumscribing rules of storytelling: he shows nothing and narrates everything. The idea of "character" falls hopelessly by the wayside, although there are several differently-named speakers who hold forth in similarly congested, intermittently fascinating monologues. "Anne," for instance, is a former heroin addict whom the unnamed, first-person narrator meets at the Thalia movie theater….

Eventually, after several lengthy soliloquies in which Anne has proven herself to be the narrator's equal in maladaptive tendencies, she accompanies him to Cleveland, where he is to begin medical school. (p. 454)

The narrator abortively attends classes, abortively makes love to Anne, takes a part-time job teaching in a language school from which he is fired. He has, it appears, not yet been...

(The entire section is 731 words.)