In the Palace of the Movie King Critical Essays

Hortense Calisher

In the Palace of the Movie King

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

IN THE PALACE OF THE MOVIE KING is a variation on the theme of the transportational journey which is a common thread among a number of Calisher’s novel and short stories, including JOURNAL FROM ELLIPSIA (1965), ON KEEPING WOMEN (1977) and AGE (1987). In this narrative, her protagonist, film director Paul Gonchev, a perpetual “outsider,” is removed from the world he knows and comes, after a series of dramatic and traumatic dislocations, to realize the emptiness of his life, the meaninglessness of political boundaries, and the significance of his relationships to his wife and children. This is a novel of picaresque adventures with a postmodern European twist, as Gonchev deals with shifting political realities as well as fundamental existential questions.

Gonchev’s adventures in the “West” include his kidnapping; a period of being unable to speak any language but the Japanese of his boyhood; an affair with his interpreter, which ends unhappily because of the differences in their ethnicities; encounters with professional dissidents and their dissatisfied wives; interactions with faceless government departments; and ultimately, reunion with his beloved wife, who has had her own series of adventures.

Calisher is a novelist at the peak of her powers of observation and description. Readers should not be put off by her prose, which has a tendency to be subtle, elliptical and complex. This novel is an ambitious, elegant examination of the meanings of place, politics, art, and love in a world defined by isolation and separation.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, September 15, 1993, p. 126.

Kirkus Reviews. LXI, October 1, 1993, p. 1217.

Library Journal. CXVIII, August, 1993, p. 148.

Los Angeles Times. April 4, 1994, p. E6.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, February 20, 1994, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, October 11, 1993, p. 69.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction. XIV, Spring, 1994, p. 216.

The Washington Post. February 11, 1994, p. B2.