A drifter and former inmate of a mental hospital who cannot even remember his own name meets a strange naked woman in a wood. After they make love, she directs him to a cave where he climbs a rock face and discovers a chain festooned with mirrors, prisms, and lenses. Obeying some barely understood whim, he wraps the chain around his body. Drifting on, he travels to the midwestern city of Bellona where an apocalypse of some kind has occurred. As he enters the city, the drifter encounters a group of women who are leaving it. They give him a weapon known as an orchid, an arrangement of blades worn on a strap around the wrist.
On his first night in Bellona, the drifter meets Tak, a former engineer, who takes to calling him “kid” (during the course of the novel, he will be variously known as Kidd, the kid, or the Kid; readers never learn his real name). Tak introduces the Kid to a community of hippies living rough in the park. One of them, a harmonica-playing and independent-minded woman named Lanya, will become his lover. Lanya hands the Kid a notebook, the first words of which are the first words of Dhalgren. Whoever kept the notebook previously wrote on only one side of each page, so the Kid decides to keep the book and write his own poems on the facing pages.
For a while, the Kid has a job helping a family called Richards move their apartment. In the midst of the chaos and confusion that characterize the vastly depopulated Bellona, Mrs. Richards is desperately trying to hold onto her safe, middle-class lifestyle, but the cracks are clearly showing. The family becomes the first appreciative audience for the Kid’s poems.
The Richardses’ daughter, June, was the victim of what was either a rape or a consensual but violent sexual encounter with a large black man, George Harrison, on the very night of the apocalypse (there is a suggestion that the two events may have been in some way linked). June is now obsessed with George, who has become a celebrity in the city, but she is...
(The entire section is 826 words.)