334: A Novel

Thomas M. Disch
Set 50 years into the future in New York, technocrats and administrators have alleviated the ills of economic deprivation. But in this "paradise" of harmonious life, there seems a sense of spiritual alienation. The residents at 334--a huge and anonymous apartment complex--give us a vivid, humorous and disturbing view of what the future holds.


Reviewed: 2018-11-10
Very interesting, incredibly complicated. The first part is little different than a collection of short stories, but they each hint and themes and characters developed later. There's a *chart* to help the reader follow the narrative leaps in the second half, across 3 characters, different years (out of sequence), and narrative type ('another point-of-view', fantasy, reality, and monolog). There's a total of 43 different vinettes in this section, and amazingly they seem to add up to a story. It's a fun read if you like novels like puzzles.

Another plus: technically a science fiction novel, it wears its exposition so lightly it's hard to even tell most of the time. For example, there is a drug depicted in the novel that gives certain characters an elaborately detailed fantasy life--a sort of pharmacological virtual reality. While several passages occur in these alternate realities, the SF mechanism through which they occur isn't explained until about halfway through.

I think I would have to read it a few more times to pick up on all the connections and interactions. For example, a seemingly throwaway character from one of the early stories (Martinez) turns out to be the estranged husband of one of the main characters (Juan). It's only later that you realize it's the same person (=Juan Martinez).

I haven't read a book that's both challenging and entertaining in a long time. It's usually one or the other, for me. I didn't rank it 5/5 only because I wouldn't recommend it for everyone: I could easily see how the narrative tricks might seem like tedious affectations, and there's a lot of profanity and disturbing imagery. But if you don't mind that stuff, then I heartily recommend it.
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