The Labyrinth by Robert Vickrey (1926-2011)
Dis for Daedalus, kid Icarus’s papa. From Joseph Shipley’s The Origin of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, a book that has given me more joy than is probably normal or healthy :
“del II: cut; carve; harm. GK daidalos: cut with art; Daedalus, the inventor who built the labyrinth for Minos, king of Crete, to confine the Minotaur. This monster—half man, half bull—was conceived by Minos’s wife Pasiphae with Poseidon’s sacred bull, which Minos had refused to return to Poseidon. Imprisoned, Daedalus made wings for himself and his son Icarus; they few away; but the son flew too near the sun, the wax fastening his wings melted, and he fell and drowned in what was thereafter called the Icarian Sea. Hence daedalian: skillful; Icarian: rash and ruinous” (Shipley 58).
D is also for Dedalus, Stephen, James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical stand-in in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Stephen Dedalus also is prominent in the first couple of chapters of Ulysses, before Leopold Bloom’s journey through Dublin becomes the novel’s focus. Despite the heroic help of my college roommate’s Ritalin prescription, I never finished Ulysses, but I’m enrolled in a Joyce seminar commencing this fall (should be good). I did however read Portrait a number of times; I can’t think of a better example of an experimental writing style that evolves and adapts as its main character grows, learns, and rebels.
E is for Ebdus, Dylan, the hero of one of my all-time favorites, Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. Like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Fortress is a bildungsroman, a novel that details the development of its main character from childhood to maturity. To this end, each chapter of the first section of Fortress covers approximately a year in the life of young Dylan as he tries to make meaning out of his strange Brooklyn neighborhood and race-relations in the seventies.
E is also for Essrog, Lionel, the would-be detective who narrates Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn. Lionel Essrog is afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, and his tics and yelps punctuate the novel with a weird and fascinating rhythm, a play of re-signification that would make Derrida proud. This is one of those Sunday afternoon books, the kind that you sit down to read with a glass (or four) of sangria and pretty much finish. Japanese monks, Brooklyn mobsters, hot dogs and papaya juice, plenty of verbal tics. And orphans. Lots and lots of orphans.