The Exquisite CorpseBook |
A radical search for identity.
Two years before the Stonewall riots helped spark the gay liberation movement, Alfred Chester wrote The Exquisite Corpse—an anguished, hallucinatory novel that follows no fixed course while pushing against repressive boundaries—both societal and literary. Based on a Surrealist method of collaborative writing which, coincidentally, provides the name for the novel, Corpse unfolds in tight, vibrant chapters which don't progress so much as mutate. Characters' names change with each new locale yet, thanks to Chester's command at establishing each one's predilections and details, they remain readily identifiable. Ironically, one of the main themes at work in Corpse is the search for a coherent, fulfilling identity. Most of these characters, whose names range from John Doe to Mary Poorpoor to Xavier, are in search of acceptance, yet they're ill-equipped to find people who can give it to them or incapable of sustaining it if they do. Chester's prose skillfully switches tone, sometimes turning on a dime within the same sentence, in order to cleave to his characters and their mercurial emotions. Thickening the stew is an eroticism that, though occasionally graphic, expresses disappointment and horror more than satisfaction or heat. Dated by some of its perspectives and campy humor, The Exquisite Corpse nevertheless is a book ahead of its time and one worth seeking out.
|Diana Athill discusses Alfred Chester|