Wurlitzer, Rudolph (Vol. 4)

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Wurlitzer, Rudolph 1938?–

Wurlitzer is an American novelist.

In grisly detail [Wurlitzer] describes [in Nog] an interlude in the lives of a few young acid heads freaking out in various habitats ranging from California and Panama to New York, where the yarn abruptly terminates. Prose fiction outside the novel form is momentarily fashionable, and here for all to regard is an example of the genre composed with no little skill and confidence.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Spring, 1969), p. xlix.

No one waits for Godot in [the] somber pages [of Flats], yet the Beckett influence is manifest as in the course of the narrative private fantasy reveals a central figure wandering aimlessly in the blackness of night over the swampy flats of a garbage and refuse dump, while a blue light flashes to no purpose and an engine drones overhead. Symbolism is here for the choosing in sufficient supply to please the most exacting of readers accompanied by an opacity both puzzling and superfluous. Mr. Wurlitzer's brief book can be only designated a novel by courtesy, for all commonly accepted criteria are conspicuously absent. His work has every affectation of profundity.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Winter, 1971), p ix.

Samuel Beckett sometimes writes like this: "It was midnight. It was raining. It was not midnight. It was not raining." Such particularity has been described as a dogged persistence in getting at the bare truth. Rudolph Wurlitzer is similarly persistent: "I don't want to manage the repetitions. I know about that. I don't know about that. I don't want to create a conclusion. That has already happened."

The similarity of style is plain enough: so too are theme and setting. Beckett should be flattered: Mr Wurlitzer gives the impression of having read no one else….

The characters [in Flats] inhabit a waste land. It might be a dump at the edge of town, or a public park in the post-pollution age, and the characters no more than tramps enacting the absurdities the fiction of terminus so easily invites. Or they are the derelict survivors of apocalypse….

What can be commended in Flats is the success with which Mr Wurlitzer teases (in a grim sort of way) rather than informs. The sustained, grey image of desolation is powerfully cumulative, and the motives and preoccupations of the characters appropriately trivial or pointless. Grovelling among the rubbish of the twentieth century, treasuring bars of soap and paper cups, Mr Wurlitzer's garbage-people experience the American Nightmare. But people have lived in dustbins before.

"Dead End Game," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), November 26, 1971, p. 1469.

Rudolph Wurlitzer in Nog, his brilliant first novel, makes the most serious effort since Pynchon to create a style that renders similar states of being in which separate identities can barely be located and, when they are, seem merely accidental. Identities fuse and separate without intention and without feeling, as if persons had the consistency of air, with no one able to find himself in himself, in anyone else or, with any certainty, even in space. For Wurlitzer to have achieved a stylistic approximation of these conditions is an accomplishment of some historic consequence, showing that our language can manage to reach into those areas of contemporary life where, among its young inhabitants, there is mostly silence.

Richard Poirier, in his The Performing Self (copyright © 1971 by Oxford University Press, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 26.

Wurlitzer … has had outside help, notably from Thomas Pynchon and Donald Barthelme, the former of whom proclaimed on publication of Wurlitzer's novel, Nog, that "The novel of Bullshit is dead" while the sly wag Barthelme praised it as "an excellent book, full of unhealthy mental excitement." Since Nog Wurlitzer has given us Flats, the only novel ever written where American cities do what they've always wanted to: "Houston sat up and peered at the field"; "Duluth slowly took off his remaining shoe and sock." Now with Quake ("a testament to man's ability to struggle for life with humor and courage") he has successfully achieved Lawrence's accurate prediction of the "phantasmal boredom" and "final atrophy of the feelings," above all of the "inertia, inertia, inertia" that's built into the texture of every sentence….

Contradicting Pynchon, we can admit that on the evidence of this new book the novel of Bullshit is not dead at all but humorlessly alive as ever, Wurlitzer's work being an egregious instance of it.

William H. Pritchard, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1973 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 1, Spring, 1973, p. 230.

Rudolph Wurlitzer's Nog (1969) and Flats (1970) offer convincing evidence of the continuing vitality of prose fiction. Both novels take us to the heart of the American malaise and do so by reaching deeply into the best traditions of our literature. Both novels force us to re-examine the American dream in the light of present realities; and both stand in the rich tradition of the American parable: Ishmael, Huck, Nick Adams, and Nick Carraway, for example, are the formidable predecessors of the anonymous, profoundly fragmented narrators of Nog and Flats. Wurlitzer's spokesmen bring the solipsism and negation of Melville's Bartleby up to date. In the disintegrative and maddened present the only thinned-out authenticity left is found in the "freedom" of the naked "I"—the uncompromised naysayer….

Nog and Flats are worthy experiments and possess the form and finesse that will win them increasing acceptance…. The best experimental fiction of recent years has revealed few limitations beyond which genuinely creative writers cannot take us. Wurlitzer shares with many of them an interest in probing beneath the layers of cultural conditioning and compromise to expose the truth of man's solitary being.

Douglass Bolling, "Rudolph Wurlitzer's 'Nog' and 'Flats'," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XIV, No. 3, 1973, pp. 5-15.

Rudolph Wurlitzer's new novel, Quake, his third in three years, assumes the American apocalypse as [fact], brute surface fact, violence served up without comment in all its dehumanizing reality. Despite its blunt naturalistic technique, the novel is complete fable, an act of imagination which locates the specific collapse of American civilization in Los Angeles, fittingly enough, and which refuses any statement but the most symbolic. Its narrative consciousness comes from a young, nameless wanderer whose basic life style (an actual absence of life style) makes him the perfect medium for transmitting all the ugly details, chalking up another literary debt to Ernest Hemingway….

As sociological fable, Quake is clever and chillingly apt, but it weakens its own firm, if far too narrow, raison d'être through its adolescent obsession with sexual quirks. True, the sexual fantasies of masculine America are one with its more violent urges, but the sex here is too often arbitrary, external, the result of the author's personal hang-up rather than a legitimate causal or thematic factor. Sensationalism clouds much of what is valuable in the book, and I suspect that Mr. Wurlitzer is himself too enmeshed in his hero's lost identity to offer us a reliable mirror for the fragmented profile of our cultural heritage.

Edward Butscher, in Carleton Miscellany, Fall/Winter, 1973–74, pp. 133-34.


Wurlitzer, Rudolph (Vol. 2)