63: Dream Palace: Selected Stories 1956-1987
Author: James Purdy
Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (Revised Edition 1991)
This volume affords readers a new opportunity to evaluate this rare stylist. Purdy, author of Garments the Living Wear, has an ear for the way real people speak, and his disoriented voice is that of post-World War II America. His characters are emotional cripples—from the two narcissistic body builders focused only on their own forms (and the office co-worker who is obsessed with them) to a woman whose drunken confession of hatred of her spouse and herself provokes domestic violence. Similarly, Purdy systematically undermines the props we use to compensate for our lack of wholeness. Friendship is depicted as ultimately manipulative and hollow; organized religion is a crutch for the walking wounded (an honest but control-oriented preacher in one piece tells his flock that they are hopeless). Homoeroticism pervades the stories, including one of the best, which depicts the sad life of a man who thinks he has no character. The showpiece of the collection is the title work, Purdy's striking novella, dealing with a writer's fascination with what he perceives to be a boy's wild freedom, and his discovery that the youth's life is even more circumscribed than his own.