repurposed: gene wolfe’s pandora by holly hollander

I’ve got it in my head to reread There Are Doors when I return to America, and so my bookshelf, to see if it still holds up for me as the strongest of Wolfe’s late-eighties/early-nineties modern fantasies, and just how much my high opinion of it is due to its pushing certain of my narrative and stylistic buttons.

Doors belongs to a period, between the New and Long suns, when the man worked primarily in modern stories laced with the fantastic and, as indicated, it’s my favorite. Its company is Free Live Free (which I enjoyed but aren’t a huge fan of), Castleview (the only Wolfe I actively disliked upon first reading it), and Pandora by Holly Hollander, which has been out of print for some time and was, when I finally found it, the only of Wolfe’s published works (aside from the long out-of-print, actively suppressed Operation Ares) to that date I had not read. I wrote about it in a few scattered places. It remains, to this date, the only Wolfe I’ve written much about, because it’s so apparently simple, and has had so little else written on it, so there is much less for me to be compared unfavourably to.

I reproduce, with few alterations, what I’ve previously written here in the hopes that its handiness and the above posting of my post-Thailand reading plans will be enough to actually get me to go through with them. Sort of like the Alnilam thing but more likely to work.


My sister’s yearly Christmas ritual of sending me a Powell’s gift card has led to a copy of Gene Wolfe’s out-of-print Pandora by Holly Hollander. I’ve always been curious about it as it’s little-discussed in circles that discuss him and seemed in summary to be something that played to his weaknesses: a relatively straight-forward mystery told from the point of view of a seventeen year-old girl written by an aging male Texan known for deliberate lacunae and the weakness of his female characters. Most of his work is from a strong, usually male, point of view, so the lack of depth or insight into things feminine never bothered me that much (though it has frequently left me wanting to discuss his work with a woman), but Pandora by Holly Hollander left me actively glad that the road it takes is one he so rarely treads.


There are moments in Wolfe’s more recent books where he makes glancing reference to modern, or near-modern, life within a narrative that takes place largely outside of it. To me, these came across as awkward and forced. There are times, especially in the most-recent Pirate Freedom, when the awkwardness seems to be a genuine attempt at emulating how awkward the point-of-view character would write (both it and Wizard Knight are effectively meant to be very long letters to specific people) about the subject he’s approaching, but even if it’s intentionally grating, it still grates, and the needle skips in my head etc. Pandora is told entirely, self-consciously, by the titular character, a young lady who is “hip”, and so spends a lot of time throwing words (like “hip”) around in a way that I guess the then roughly sixty year-old Wolfe thought the kids would. It feels like an extended experiment. It read quickly once I got over how stilted I found it, and there wasn’t anything violently offensive about the language but it’s probably the least of his works that I’ve read (and I’m going on thirty, now). To be enjoyed, I think, only by a Wolfe completist, or maybe used as a YA gateway to the man, like The Devil in a Forest.

My copy is a first edition covered in stamps from the public library in Sandwich, Illinois. The laminated dust jacket is covered in praise for Wolfe’s Castleview, the only book-length offering of his that I’ve actively disliked. Like Castleview, I’m not exactly clamoring to revisit Pandora, but it has one character that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Castleview had G. Gordon Kitty.

I just wanted to type out “G. Gordon Kitty.”

Now I’m done.


Well wasn’t that fun.

Since that reading/writing, An Evil Guest was published. While it’s not first-person, Guest dwells largely on the POV of a woman, and I think suffers similarly for it, while having a few more rewards for the reader’s trouble. Maybe. I was left constantly uncertain and need a fresh reread before I make any statements that are too drastic.


~ by ironcupshrug on 12/15/2009.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: