Review: Dancing the Maze

by SF

dsndancing.jpgby Kenneth Dawson
PretendGenius Press 2004, ISBN 0-9747261-9-2, $9.95, 114 pages

Kenneth Dawson was born in 1957. He has fitfully attended universities but has – in his own words – “escaped without a degree.” His résumé shows a disconnected mélange of military service and employments. This is, it appears, his first book.

Dancing the Maze examines five areas in an approach that it would be difficult to describe as short stories. Events of a specific sort are placed in juxtaposition, some of it is in prose and some of it is poetry. The book is unified by a bleakness of vision that is arresting.

‘Paralysis’ accounts for the early life of a man abused by his father, enfeebled with and turned bitter by a debilitating disease. The protagonist later serves in Vietnam where he is at last rendered numb by the brutality of the war. In the end he creates a kind of private truce and sits oblivious of military protocol. “And I knew secrets. If you’re not willing to shoot them you must be careful with people who know secrets.”

‘The Blues You Play’ stays in the same area of human brutality but the expression is cast in terms of even more remotely connected insights, most of them expressed with the concision of poetry. “If there is a God, is it manifested in the forgiveness of survivors? I think of a woman who lived through My Lai describing horrors in an interview and saying she didn’t hate Americans, but only wondered, why? Perhaps she, transcending hate, is why.”

‘Confession of a Race Traitor’ brings the soldier out of service into a struggle with the equally insane demands of civilian life in a debased and vicious society. The situation, rather than the story for there is none, is built up of comments, descriptions and meditations.

‘Manifest Destiny’ has three parts: an Indian that explodes against the depravity of those that oppress him and goes on a killing spree; an anthropologist who shares his information on an obscure tribe with the military which kills the tribe off for political but essentially trivial reasons; and an Indian shaman who has adopted a fictitious role unknowingly but is led to embrace it as still the best that he can achieve in a sick world.

‘The Great American Desert,’ the short closing piece, is a rhapsody on the deserters from society. Almost all the books that I have been reading lately show a great debt somehow to Kerouac. Since I have never regarded Kerouac as a great or even a good writer, I am happy that all of the writers that I have been reading lately are much better writers than he.

Dawson told me more about human brutality that I want to think about and put my forbearance to the test. Happier writers, if they are any good and not fools, will know that there is much to fear and much to dislike but they seldom bring us reports from the abyss. Dawson does and the honesty of his report wrings admiration from me reluctantly. This is what a book should be as a transfiguring instrument and there is nothing to say that such an experience will be a happy one. Thus warned, every reader will need to meditate on his or her need for such a book. For my part I found it an extraordinary experience which I would not have missed but which I would not want to repeat.

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cover designed by Stratos

cover illustrations by the Author