The Building

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

In the preface to his novel The Building, Thomas Glynn quotes a Navajo “House Blessing”:

May it be delightful my house,From my head may it be delightful,To my feet may it be delightful,Where I lie may it be delightful,All above me may it be delightful,All around me may it be delightful.

Everything in the novel that follows this poem, however, is in utter contradiction to it. The Building itself, constructed as a multiple dwelling place, is a surreal mix of the once magnificent and the immediately grotesque, built at a time in history when floors were parqueted and doors were made of real oak, when spacious lobbies had marble floors and gold-leaf ceilings and when individual apartments contained room enough for families to grow, for children to be born and mature, for parents to work and retire in a sufficient allotment not only of space but also of hope and fulfillment of the American Dream. The dream, however, has become a nightmare. The courtyard of the Building now contains garbage to the height of the first floor. The lobby, dark and dank, is brown from blood from muggings and cluttered with marble that has been broken by sledgehammers. Elevators do not work. On the doors that still stand are rivets of dozens of locks that inhabitants have used to try to protect themselves at night. Rivers, following the line of pipes, run through the apartments. Electrical storms cause instant fires. Walls ooze blood or are smeared with excrement; apartments are filled with roaches, rats, moths, vermin of all description; the roof has holes and the chimney is crumbling.

The Building is filled with people, described in such abundant detail that they become figures larger than life, like characters in myth. There is Steckler, who is supercharging a Chevy Nova in his apartment; Cuzz, a part-time mugger and drug addict; Mother Ozmoz, whose gestation period is eight months and who produces children back to back, three children every two years. There is an African dictator who lives in the Building with ten wives, his exalted pillow bearer, and a man who intones the hour every hour. There is the artist Stern, who paints only Madonnas using naked models, who are usually numbed by cold and hunger. There are two muggers named Visa and MasterCharge; the Wilson sisters, former acrobatic dancers who can still tie themselves into a knot; a man who worships roaches and a superintendent who worships wood; and a grossly overweight female paraplegic who mistakes rape for love.

These characters are only a few of the many who are introduced early in the novel. The chapters in this first section are primarily self-contained character sketches; consequently, no sustained narrative line emerges. Rather, recurring image patterns, like that of fire and various kinds of religious worship, provide necessary unifying elements and build toward the apocalyptic conclusion. Dwarf and Lunatic, for example, at various places in the novel, imagine fire and flames engulfing the Building as walls collapse and people shout and cry as they attempt to escape. A veritable microcosm of the city of New York—which, in turn, is a microcosm of the world—the Building is peopled with humans of every race and kind, who...

(The entire section is 1401 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

Booklist. LXXXII, November 15, 1985, p. 450.

Kirkus Reviews. LIII, November 15, 1985, p. 1207.

Library Journal. CXI, January, 1986, p. 101.

The New York Times Book Review. XCI, January 26, 1986, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXVIII, November 1, 1985, p. 56.

Time. CXXVI, December 30, 1985, p. 76.