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James Chapman. Stet.

James Chapman. Stet. Fugue State Press, 2006. 336 pp. Paper: $16.00.

"All of history comes about because of certain people's abilities to change the subject," writes James Chapman in his urgent new novel, Stet. If history is a red herring, then Chapman's red herring is Soviet, but no novel has ever been as powerfully targeted by analogy at the American artist today. The expression "Stet" itself, the name of the novel's protagonist, is a proofreader's mark indicating "Leave it the way it was before change was erroneously suggested." That seems precisely to be what Chapman is getting at in this pseudo-Russian novel. Sure, America won the Cold War, but what have we lost in the process? Is the price Russian culture? Is the worldwide replacement of Gogol, Dostoevsky and Shostakovich with Jackass and Jessica Simpson really the direction international culture should be headed? How much further must we debase art before we reclaim loftier ambitions? Chapman revisits one of his favorite themes, the artist's role in a world hostile to art, elucidated brilliantly in In Candyland It's Cool to Feed on Your Friends (1997). In Stet, Chapman continues this examination, but of course the extinction of art looms larger now. Our undoing of great art is analogous to the undoing of Soviet filmmaker Stet, whose story in some ways resembles Shostakovich's and in other ways any serious artist's. Was oppression by Soviet censors really any worse than the systematic neglect of artistic originality? Did communism produce worse art than our cookie-cutter capitalism has? Why have we surrendered art to corporations? Chapman's novel illustrates what we've abandoned, and his lush, imagistic, euphonic prose is a sensory delight while it addresses the deepest, most significant matters of human nature. It is a novel that everyone should read, but Fear Factor's on. [Eckhard Gerdes]
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Author:Gerdes, Eckhard
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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