A Bended Circuity, by Robert S. Stickley
This first novel by Robert S. Stickley is prepared for reading, but not for being summarized. It is long, a maximalist satirical book about southern (US) gratitude for man's ability to delude, and particularly, a product of the cold war, a Russian madman whose delights have little to no effect on Vietnam or the arms race, but are redolent of both, utterly subversive and very, very funny.
Don't strap yourself in for this ride, for it is a bit like a carnival donkey ride spiralling slowly, unnoticeably out of the world you thought you were in. The writing is National Book Award caliber, the words are in some of your dictionaries, and you might as well look them up as this is not a book to breeze through. It is long, dense, circuitous, and in no hurry to pay off--which of course deepenss the payoffs. This is an amazing work of fiction.
Review by Christopher Robinson
No exaggeration: this is the most impressive debut novel I’ve read, apart from The Recognitions by William Gaddis. Seriously. It’s staggering to me that I’m even getting to make that statement right now, for I never could have imagined another first novel even coming close. No offense to any other first novels. I’ve read and loved many, many wonderful first novels. But… I mean, come on… Gaddis just nailed it.
And yet, a rival emerges out of nowhere one day, and now I have an unexpected tie on my hands.
Enter A Bended Circuity by Robert S. Stickley.
The quality of the writing is readily apparent from moment one. Behold this beautiful doozy of an opening paragraph:
In this place, outside elements are rendered useless. Gusts of wind eddy through a barricade of limbs and leaves and are left diminished in a subarboreal world where they harmlessly whirl, confusing lightweight materials such as finely woven garments and crocus leaves. This expansive canopy of intermingling oaks shelters a swath of land and it’s occupants from the brunt of discomposing forces pestering lime besetting sin.
It’s not just my eyes, right? Slow down and read it out loud… to my ear, this prose just sings. And that’s just the opening!
So, somewhat naturally in the wake of such a bold opening, a part of me kept waiting for it to fall off, lose some of its steam, lose itself, strive for glory but ultimately fall short, etc. But it never did, it somehow swerved every possible pitfall and beat the odds and somehow only got better and more addictive as I went along.
On a prose level, I’ll unhesitatingly describe it as being masterful. This is an intensely, boldly erudite novel, and the formidable lexicon is wielded with precision and care, utilized to gloriously poetic ends. Honestly, I can’t recall a single moment during my reading where I wasn’t in complete awe of the quality of the writing. Its style enamored me on each of its 637 type-dense pages.
And then there’s the story! I’ll keep it basic and avoid spoilers. Simply put, it depicts a neo-Confederate uprising circa the late 1960s/early 1970s. It’s a troubling scenario to consider, and unfortunately a rather timely-feeling one in 2022. But never fear, for as serious as this book may initially appear, behind its heady prose lies a wicked sense of humor, an absolutely brutal satirical edge. Plus its got action in abundance! Romance! Soviet spies! Musical spittooning! Birds! Scandalous carousings of the social elite! Heartbreaking scenes of domestic despair! Rare horses that trot exclusively in reverse! Intensely competitive croquet tournaments! Elaborate floral arrangements! Two men dueling with… never mind, some things are better discovered on one’s own.
Let’s recap: this book is hugely entertaining and conventionally compelling on a story level, and the writing itself is spectacular. And so the inevitable question: what the hell are you waiting for? Read this book as soon as you possibly can. It deserves your attention.
A Bended Circuity is an astonishing artistic achievement. It gladdens my heart to know that brilliant books like this one are still out there being written, even in secret. (Maybe even especially in secret.) I hope it finds the large audience it so richly deserves, and I’m greatly looking forward to following Robert S. Stickley’s work in the years to come.