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Joshua Corey. Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy.

Joshua Corey. Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy.

Spuyten Duyvil, 2014. 369 pp. Paper: $18.00.

Poets know that plot is at best an accomplished divertissement, at worst a distraction, a self-justifying invitation to ignore the exotic, coaxing lure of words--the evocative musical surface of the text, the immediacy of vowels and consonants at serious play--and to ignore the clean world-ness of images themselves--the density of immersion in event, the collisions of angles, forms, and color that become, within the curious dynamic of memory, the past that, in turn, shapes (and distorts) the integrity of the self. Make no mistake--Joshua Corey is a poet, testified to not only by his four volumes of spare and brittle poetry but by his achievement here, his first novel. What starts as an homage to narrative noir--Ruth seeks the help of a private investigator when she starts to receive letters from her dead mother--boldly crosses genre boundaries into cultural biography as the detective follows a trail through Europe that leads to the mothers involvement in the 1968 Paris student uprisings and then reaches back into the horrors of Hitler's rise. The pleasure, as one character intones, comes from tangling in mystery. With the deft confidence of an accomplished novelist, Corey structures a darkening narrative, every revelation rendered ironic by layerings of secrecy. Was Ruth's mother a heroic figure of the student resistance or are the letters part of some narrative that Ruth struggles to assemble; are they her own ghosts or history's ghosts that she is desperate to constellate into sentences, paragraphs. The closing hundred pages are best described as conceptual--Corey abandons the pedestrian logic of plot and the pretentious cliches of neorealism to immerse us in a fine, clean webbing of images that discloses only reluctantly, reveling rather in language that lifts and terrifies. [JOSEPH DEWEY]

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Author:Dewey, Joseph
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2014
Words:342
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