Lukáš Tomin - A martyrised allegory of itself, The Doll is like an unredeemed child’s fantasia, replete with its Maldoror-esque gigantism, its symbolic parricides, its incest, its deranged ecstasies, its polymorph obscenity, its sublime and apocalyptic id-like irrationality.

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Lukáš Tomin, The Doll, Twisted Spoon Press, 2010. [1992.]

The cult novel of early 1990s Prague.
Set somewhere in Europe, The Doll interweaves the stories of three couples in search of transcendence. At the center are two children, Cathy and Thomas, who travel to Spain to erect the largest doll in the world — a symbol of aspiration that diminishes as the work progresses. Grotesque descriptions of sex and drunkenness illustrate the futility of any form of striving toward a goal. A nod to the greats of Modernism, The Doll is a swirl of languages, hallucinations, and visions that create a dreamlike atmosphere of mystical import. It became an immediate cult classic in Prague upon its publication in 1992.

A visionary work, by an extraordinary and important young writer. As cultures and languages mix and merge, Tomin meets the subsequent literary challenge head on, and actually makes this reader hopeful about the future of the Novel. -- Fay Weldon

The Doll is a sensuous and melodious flow of words that Tomin has mercilessly dragged out of his subconscious . . . The result is somewhere between prose and poetry. -- Prognosis, April, 1993

Twisted Spoon's very first publication remains one of their most extreme: Lukas Tomin's The Doll. Tomin leaves his characters half-drawn for much of the book, forcing the reader to puzzle out the connections and distinctions between them. His drastic switches of style abandon cumulative effect for a series of instants, sometimes with heavily compressed plotting or circular passages of dialogue. . . . The novel seeks to jolt with its odd narrative rhythms, making it a rare contemporary update of the surrealist novels of Breton and Pinget. Tomin grew up in a disident family under one of the harshest periods of communist rule, and wrote The Doll in his second language, English, as an migr in Paris. He steadfastly refuses to ground his prose in a comfortable fictional environment, just as he refused to ground it in the comfort of his native language. -- David Auerbach
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Lukáš Tomin, KyeTwisted Spoon Press, 1997.

In many ways a companion to Ashtrays, Tomin's previous novel, Kye shifts the setting from Paris, where exuberance was found in excess, to London, where the organism senses itself to be out of balance and is acutely aware of its decay. The euphoria has long passed as Kye is unable to break the inertia of his drinking, smoking, and unfulfilled sexual fantasies. As such, Tomin explores the trap exile has become for him, making clear his identity as Czech. Gradually overcome by his impotence to act decisively, Kye reflects on all that was left and lost "back there."    

A Lovely Tale of Photography is an hallucinatory novella about a female photographer who is suffering from an undetermined illness. Confined to a sanatorium, where she is surrounded by a cast of stock characters speaking various languages, she is made to confront a reality other than that framed by her camera.

The setting is contemporary London. The narrator, Kye, is a Czech expatriate who lives a life of alcoholism, dissolution, and general purposelessness . . . remembering more directed times: his revels in Paris; his youth in Czechoslovakia as a student demonstrator. Kyes mind leaps and spills like a piata. Where text becomes consciousness, the protagonists personality, conversely, becomes a semiotic field of imaginings and symbolic markers. Avidly experimental in approach, the lines between observation and fantasy are dissolved, points of view are conflated, and the nervous drift of the narrative sweeps the reader into dislocation. While Tomins literary influences are modernist, his voice and sense of humor are uniquely contemporary. -- The Prague Post, November 16, 1997

unique experimental prose . . . depicting a surreally disjointed and thorny world. -- Time Out Guide

Tomin's writing moves seamlessly between poetry and prose, employing rhyme and wordplay to create extra-linear meanings which deepen and extend rather than detract from the central narration. Less an experiment than an excursion into the depths of language, Tomin's work deserves to be read more widely. - — Stephan Delbos
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Lukáš Tomin, Ashtrays, Twisted Spoon Press, 1995.

Set in Paris, Tomin's second book is the narrative of a tempestuous Czech artist living off the generosity of his girlfriend, struggling with the desire for fame and the alienation of his exile. Repetitive passage through the streets of Paris and recounting of events and disruptions of daily life are periodically broken by lyrical sequences where fantasy and recollection are combined. Writing in an adopted tongue marked by both his native Czech and the French of his setting, Tomin forges an English that is rhythmic, mobile, energetic, and often sharply humorous. In this language, the extremes of the material and spiritual worlds collide and intersect, creating a space of extreme reality which directly confronts the mundane.

There is no question that Tomin has talent for creating a gritty, urban, yet highly poetic atmosphere. -- Prognosis, January, 1994

Whatever else the novel Ashtrays may be, it is certainly a linguistic tour de force all the more remarkable given that the author, Lukas Tomin, is a Czech who has chosen to write in English. The imagery is stiking and highly original, the speech rhythm whether British or American English remarkably fluent and accurate, and the style as a whole has a mellifluous, poetic quality. It also has that essential and often forgotten ingredient for a novel: It makes the reader want to turn its pages. Unlike Tomin's first novel The Doll, there is little trace of mysticism, . . . Instead, what we get is a gritty, sordid portrait of Parisian low-life couched in language of great originality that gives even the most squalid passages a compelling intensity. -- Michael Halstead

... the most innovative and refreshing piece that I have read in a while ... - Cups

The author of three books during his short lifetime, Lukáš Tomin was something of a René Crevel of Prague’s nascent post-Revolution scene in the early nineties. Born in 1963, Tomin was the eldest son of two of the city’s most prominent intellectuals – Julius Tomin, a philosopher heavily involved in the underground university, and Zdena Tomin(ová), writer and spokesperson for Charter 77.[1] As part of the communist regime’s persecution of dissident families (considered “enemies of the state”), Tomin was deprived of access to secondary education at the age of 15. As a result, he immersed himself in the unofficial culture of the 1970s, attending underground seminars and publishing his earliest writings in samizdat.
On the 7th of May, 1979, Tomin’s mother was brutally attacked in the doorway of the family’s apartment building at 4 Keramická street, by a suspected agent of state security (StB, Státní bezpečnost). Barbara Day, in her history of the underground university, recounts:
Passers-by rescued her, but not before she had been severely beaten. An ambulance was called and she was hospitalised with concussion. The following day Zdena issued a statement connecting the attack with her constant surveillance by the secret police.[2]
Several months later, Tomin’s father was briefly incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital at Dolní Beřkovice. The threat of further incarceration remained. Meanwhile Tomin himself was placed under surveillance by the estébáci (StB)[3] and assigned the codename Strojník-2 (Machinist-2).[4]
On the 22nd of October a series of show trials began in Prague – the largest since the 1950s – of members of VONS (the Committee for the Protection of the Unjustly Persecuted – organised to investigate unfounded accusations by the state, against ordinary citizens, of “criminal subversion of the republic in collusion with foreign agents”) including Václav Benda, a close friend of the Tomins. After a string of “preventative detentions” and police raids on their apartment, the Tomins finally chose – with strong encouragement from the Czechoslovak government – to emigrate on a five-year visa.[5] On the 1st of August, 1980 – in the midst of the worst period of normalizace – the family, accompanied by British philosopher Kathy Wilkes, drove by car to the German border and from there, via Switzerland, to Paris and London. Nine months later they received notice that their citizenship had been revoked.
While his father taught Plato at Balliol College, Oxford (ultimately becoming a controversial figure within the university), Tomin studied at St Edward’s School, then at Oxford and the University of London, before decamping to Paris in 1985 where he completed work on The Doll in 1987. For the next several years he divided his time between Paris, Montreal and London, writing prose fiction and (increasingly) stage drama. In 1986, Tomin’s mother achieved notice with the publication of her novel Stalin’s Shoes, followed a year later with The Coasts of Bohemia. Tomin himself published a series of poems in the London Literary Review and an article on the souring of the Velvet Revolution in the New Statesman (“American businessmen offer magic dollars for a bit of eastern promise”).[6] After his return to Prague in 1991, he became a regular contributor to Literární Noviny, Host and The Prague Post.
But Tomin soon found himself in a situation familiar to many former émigrés, accentuated in his case by the decision to write primarily in English. Overlooked by the Czech literary establishment and ignored by publishers in the UK and the US, Tomin naturally gravitated to the circle around Iniciály – a newly-established journal devoted to publishing writers under thirty (founded by Ewald Murrer and Jakub Rosen) – and to the international scene then taking form in Prague.
In 1991, Howard Sidenberg – along with artist Kip Bauersfeld and translator Kevin Blahut – established Twisted Spoon Press, with the specific intention of publishing Tomin’s first novel, The Doll, composed from 1985 to 1987 during the author’s peregrinations between Rome, London and Paris. The Doll duly appeared in 1992, to some notable acclaim. Fay Weldon described the novel as
a visionary work, by an extraordinary and important young writer. As cultures and languages mix and merge, Tomin meets the consequent literary challenge head on, and actually makes this reader hopeful about the future of the novel.[7]
The reviewer for Prognosis (a Prague English-language paper that ran from 1990 to 1995) wrote:
The Doll is a sensuous and melodious flow of words that Tomin has mercilessly dragged out of his subconscious, offering the reader a bizarre, uncensored current of his thoughts, pure and true. The result is somewhere between prose and poetry.[8]
Sidenberg went on to publish Tomin’s remaining two novels: Ashtrays in 1993 (with a re-edition in 1995) – held by some to be Tomin’s masterpiece – and Kye, posthumously in 1997 (like The Doll, both had been completed before Tomin’s return to Czechoslovakia). Ashtrays, illustrated by Alf van der Plank, was described by The Prague Post as “a linguistic tour de force[9] (an excerpt from the book also appeared in the inaugural issue of the Prague literary journal Trafika that Autumn). Reviewing Kye in the Post four years later, Anthony Tognazzini wrote of Tomin as “a fine formalist whose narrative experiments are bold and intriguing.”[10] An unfinished fragment, “Kye Too,” was belatedly published in the literary broadsheet Semtext in 2000 and again in the Prague Literary Review in May 2004.
Without ever having received the recognition his work warranted, and which his early reviewers suggested was immanent, Tomin committed suicide in 1995 at the age of 32. His body was discovered at the foot of a cliff in the Šárka valley; a private memorial service was held at the church of saint antonin on Strossmayerovo náměstí.[11] Acknowledgement of Tomin’s importance for Prague’s post-’89 renaissance (the reinstatement of the city as one of the chief European centres of modernism and the avant-garde)[12] has had to wait more than a decade. In an interview for Host magazine in November 2009, Czech poet Vladimira Čerepková described Tomin – in one of the very few recent public pronouncements about his work – as one of the crucial figures to have emerged after the Velvet Revolution.[13] At the time of writing, however, none of Tomin’s novels has yet appeared in Czech (although translations of both The Doll and Ashtrays have existed in typescript since the early- and mid- ’90s), while his dramatic and poetical works, retained by his estate, mostly remain unpublished in either language. - Louis Armand  read more here

Mark Mayer - An assortment of quirky, intricate stories connected by the theme of the circus. A serial-killer clown drives a group of friends around a small town in search of the most convenient place to murder them. A dead circus elephant is dissected by its caretaker in a desolate town

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Mark Mayer, Aerialists: Stories, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

"Mark Mayer writes with a humorous, wistful elegance. His stories are singular, as detached and intimate as dreaming." --Marilynne Robinson

Welcome to the sublime circus of Mark Mayer's Michener-Copernicus-winning debut, Aerialists, a fiercely inventive collection of nine stories in which classic carnival characters become ordinary misfits seeking grandeur in a lonely world.
Under the luminous tent of Mayer's prose, we see P.T. Barnum's caravan remade: A young misogynist finds a confidante in a cable-TV strongwoman. A realtor for the one percent invokes his inner murder clown. A skin-and-bones mathematician and his bearded wife plot revolution. A friendless peach farmer holds a funeral for a beloved elephant. And a model-train hobbyist prepares to throw his miniature world in the trash.
The circus has always been a collection of American exaggerations-the bold, the beautiful, the freakish, the big. Aerialists finds these myths living in the everyday. Mayer's deftly drawn characters illuminate these small-scale spectaculars, and their attempted acts of daring and feats of strength are rendered with humor, generosity, and uncommon grace.

“One of the best collections I've read in years. These stories are bright and muscular, luminous and generous, nimble and funny, tender and surprising at every turn.” ―Carmen Maria Machado

“Mayer may well live in the same world as you and me, but he's able to see beyond it all somehow, and he finds extraordinary weirdness and beauty everywhere he looks. Aerialists is exquisite and wild.” ―Peter Orner

“Precise, sharp, unexpected; you go down hard, but know the thrill of being taken out by a master.” ―Merritt Tierce

“In Aerialists's nine uncanny, perfectly crafted stories, which bring to mind short-form experts like George Saunders and Steven Millhauser, Mark Mayer puts on the greatest show on Earth.” ―Tony Tulathimutte

“An exhilarating ether of uncommon intelligence inhabits these stories. Mark Mayer writes beauty, writes funny, writes wise, writes awful, writes marvel, writes verve, writes sad. If the emergency exits are everywhere blocked here, even the unbearable incorporates strange uplift, admits fierce grace, and the whole is frequently gusted by truth. This is the real thing: what an exciting debut.” ―Laird Hunt

“Brilliant and wrenching, Aerialists explores with great care the struggle to love and be loved, to know and be known. Mayer's worlds unfold with unwavering compassion and vulnerability. The result is revelatory, brimful with the terror and joy of life laid bare.” ―Anna Noyes

Aerialists is a work of great imagination. These stories are always in motion, as characters reach for their better selves and touch them only briefly, in singular, exquisite moments rendered in astounding prose. Mark Mayer is wise and big-hearted, a magician of the American sentence. Each story is its own world, inhabited by characters who are painfully, wonderfully real.” ―Emily Ruskovich

“A dazzling collection filled with characters who evoke, in their flawed humanity, the strange, sorrowful and ever shimmering world of the circus. Mayer's bittersweet stories are playful, haunting and wonderfully inventive. Read them and be transported.” ―Mona Awad

“Mark Mayer's tender and surprising stories feature people that are yearning for connections in a world gone slightly askew. A son of newly divorced parents forms a fleeting relationship with his mother's new lover, an old bachelor seeks someone to care for his model train set, a lonely girl imagines a telepathic connection to a profoundly disabled girl in these tales. There are wondrous discoveries as these characters' emotions are revealed through odd choices, strange behaviors and a bit of desperation. It's just like real life, only more heartbreaking and beautiful.” ―Arsen Kashkashian

“This might very well be my favorite short story collection of all time. More than that, Aerialists is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and emotionally resonant books I have ever read, a poignant collection of stories that are at once heartbreaking and life-affirming but always profoundly human. Debut author Mark Mayer is a genuine revelation. He writes with dizzying insight and uncanny grace, his prose sparkling brilliantly in the light. Like a great ringmaster, he captivates the attention of his audience and shows us the rich weirdness hiding beneath the surface of everyday life. Aerialists subverts expectations, pushes boundaries, and dares to be different, all while whispering of more wonders to come.” Jason Foose

An assortment of quirky, intricate stories connected by the theme of the circus.
A serial-killer clown drives a group of friends around a small town in search of the most convenient place to murder them. A woman abandoned by her husband finds comfort and solace in a lesbian relationship with a body builder who can pull trucks with ropes. A dead circus elephant is dissected by its caretaker in a desolate town. Such are the unmooring, whimsical tales that make up Mayer’s debut story collection. Mayer’s skill is unquestionable, and his range is astounding; he can render absurdist parables about the internet right next to historical fiction about the Jewish experience in the Soviet Union during the fall of the Iron Curtain. His strength lies in his subtle realist mode, when his focus on the inner lives of his characters allows the unconventionality of his style and his narrative decision-making to shine through. Stories written in Mayer’s surrealist mode sometimes feel so self-referential and lost in their own calculus that they don’t come together as well. Mayer’s prose is so compressed and exact that its dedication to strangeness sometimes undercuts the story it is telling, but historical frameworks provide Mayer with enough structure to make the twists and turns of his writing additive where elsewhere they subtracted from the tale. Unfortunately, the collection’s dedication to having the stories cohere around the circus theme feels forced and coerces the stories in a direction they wouldn’t have otherwise gone—their thematic interconnectedness is too often a stretch. In the end, Mayer’s debut effort is a somewhat flawed but memorable book.
An ambitious collection of short stories that heralds the coming of a new voice in American fiction. - Kirkus

Mayer’s high-wire debut exposes the weirdness of everyday life. In the title story, a young man about to follow his brother into the navy constructs a computer-generated simulacrum of his neighborhood. Animals are featured in several stories: in “The Evasive Magnolio,” the caretaker for a town’s dying mascot, a former circus elephant, has to plan its funeral; in “The Wilderness Act,” a middle-aged outdoors advocate, unfamiliar with the online dating scene, begins to date a woman who hopes to see a mountain lion. Other stories feature children, including “Strongman,” in which a child of divorce falls under the influence of his mother’s friend, a female bodybuilder, and “The April Thief,” in which a boy is asked to care for a disease-ridden dog until his estranged mother returns home. And then there are stories with idiosyncratic characters: Uncle Bart is a Marxist who lives in the basement and cares for his orphaned nephew along with his cancer-survivor wife in “Solidarity Forever.” A divorced real estate agent has the inner life of a killer clown in “The Clown.” And in “The Ringmaster,” an electrical engineer has a difficult time giving away his extensive model railroad. Mayer wittily subverts reader expectations with stories told in a realistic manner about characters or situations that all share a slightly surreal bent, resulting in a clever collection.Publishers Weekly

Cover iconography that depicts a circus and story titles like "The Clown," "The Ringmaster" and "Strongwoman" might lead readers to believe a series of big-top tales awaits them in Mark Mayer's excellent short story collection, Aerialists. That, much like a circus itself, is a bit of a ruse. Mayer's characters and settings are various and multifaceted, sometimes linking up to the proposed theme of the work, and sometimes downright undercutting it. It's best to ignore the theme altogether and jump into these nine poignant tales about what one owes others, and oneself.
"The Ringmaster," the final piece, is the most affecting, a somber story of a man nearing the end of his life with nothing to leave behind. Mick, a lifelong bachelor, has devoted himself to building an intricate model train set, hand-fashioning almost everything. He wakes up one day to realize it is finished, but with no one to give it to or to appreciate it, the model becomes a giant metaphor for his own impoverished life. That description might sound like Mayer closes on a sour note, but the author never loses his deep empathy for Mick, drawing the reader into his personal tragedy instead of reveling in it.
Mayer is interested in people whose connections to their friends and family are strained and tenuous, and his stories explore how easily those connections can be repaired or severed. Most of the pieces in Aerialists are tragedies in one way or another, but they always feel genuine, brought on by mistakes and failures of character. Mayer is well aware of how easily things can go wrong, and how precious it is when they go right. --Noah Cruickshank

There are a number of ways for an author to assemble a collection of short fiction. Some just repurpose whatever stories they’ve published in various literary magazines and other outlets and put them together. Others develop their stories around some sort of shared thematic or stylistic tendencies. Still others use go the “novel in stories” route, using their tales as chapters of a connected whole. And some follow more than one of these tenets.
Mark Mayer’s collection “Aerialists” (Bloomsbury, $26) falls into the latter category. This collection of nine stories draws from Mayer’s previous work – three of these stories have appeared elsewhere. His stories are rich in characterization, very internal and bleakly funny. And as his framing device – his connective tissue, as it were – he uses the notion of the circus.
Now, that’s not to say that these stories are all about the circus. In fact, none of them are. Their names are derived from circus figures, from the opening “Strongwoman” to the titular tale to the collection’s closer “The Ringmaster.” But while these names aren’t to be taken as literal representations of circus tradition, they are meant to evoke the unique feeling inspired by the circus, that mélange of joy and fear and unsettling otherness that you can’t get anywhere else.
Another common bond that these stories share – a very important one – is that they are excellent.
“Strongwoman” sees a boy dealing with the aftermath of the divorce of his parents and the entry into his mother’s life of a new friend, a competitive bodybuilder who is unlike any woman our narrator has ever encountered. Title story “Aerialists” features a young man struggling to come to terms with growing up; his work assisting a blind neighbor leads to the idea that intimate expression can take many forms. And “The Evasive Magnolio” is a heartbreaking story of a peach farmer’s discovery that his longtime elephant companion has died. When he seeks out help with the burial, he learns that the nearby town has also faded away, leaving him with just one horrible option.
Perhaps the weirdest story of the bunch is “Twin,” where a teenaged girl recounts her former best friendship with another girl, a once-conjoined twin who was left locked-in by the separation process. The two share a psychic bond, but even the most special of childhood friendships can eventually fade away. “The Wilderness Act” is the story of a man’s misguided quest for love as he desperately seeks someone with whom to genuinely connect. But even when he finds someone – through questionable pretenses – he can’t fully realize the desired dynamic. In “The April Thief,” a boy slowly comes to the realization that sometimes, what our parents tell us isn’t the truth – or at least not the whole truth. And in his yearning for a reckoning, he winds up upending the rest of his life, too.
“Solidarity Forever” offers the story of a brilliant, damaged man on a Quixotic quest to prove the merits of communism through math. His efforts lead to him eschewing meals and lingering in the basement, much to the dismay of his wife and their young nephew who lives with them; the nephew in particular seeks solace in whatever patterns he can find in the world. “The Clown” can best be summarized by its opening line – “The clown counted his murders as he drove the new couple to the house on Rocking Horse Lane.” Really, you don’t need anything more – it’s the story of a murder clown. Last but not least, “The Ringmaster,” a touching tale of a retiree’s effort to find a good home for his massive train set, a lifelong project that he deeply wishes would somehow live on beyond him.
None of these brief summaries do these stories justice (well, the one for “The Clown” comes pretty close); each one of these pieces is thorough and thoughtful, presenting complex narratives that defy simple synopsis. Individually, they shine. Taken together, they paint an emotionally impactful picture packed with dark jokes and glimmers of hope … only the jokes can hurt and the glimmers are sometimes extinguished.
Mayer has a distinct authorial voice that permeates the work; too often, collections like this one feel too uniform in their sound. That’s far from the case here – even the stories that seem as though there might be overlap are distinct. The characters that populate these pages are challenging and flawed, driven by desire and as subject to poor decision-making as the rest of us.
“Aerialists” renders the weird mundane and the mundane weird, finding commonality in strangeness while accentuating the bizarreness of the everyday. In that way, it truly does evoke the circus – it’s three rings of the unknown reflecting the personal truths we keep buried within. - Allen Adams

Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum Mark Mayer takes readers to a metaphorical circus in “Aerialists,” his debut collection. Filled with beautiful and beautifully crafted tales, the book is emotionally engaging from the first story through the last.
In this e-interview, Mayer, who lives in Denver, discusses the roll of circus themes in the work, his time at the Writers’ Workshop and more. He also offers a glimpse of his next project.
Q: Tell me about the origin of the organizing concept of “Aerialists.” How and when did the notion of circus acts transformed into stories of outsiders come into being? What sort of challenges and opportunities did the concept provide?
A: Part of what’s fascinating about our fascinations is the mysteriousness of their appeal. If we’re truly fascinated with something, we probably don’t know why we’re fascinated. When I first started writing fiction, I found myself telling stories about aerialists and animal trainers, even though in real life, I never went out of my way to go to the circus or tried to learn to juggle and my favorite literature wasn’t circus literature. But I sensed there was something there for me if I kept my eyes on the circus. I was figuring out what I could and couldn’t do with language, and the outsize, spectacular nature of the circus invited lyrical language and grand descriptions. That was part of it.
I learned, though, as I described the strongmen and acrobats of my early drafts that what was meaningful for me about the circus was not the spectacle it presented — it was how the circus saw us. Together, the various acts of the circus present a definition of humanity. They show us who we are by showing our extremes. Whether they’re the bravest, nimblest, strongest, biggest, or they’re freaks and sideshows, circus people mark out the limits of the human. Circus people are outsiders but also paragons of some aspect of humanity. I became very interested in thinking about how these archetypes live in our society and in how we might use the zodiac of the circus to interpret and understand unspectacular lives. So that’s how I found myself writing not about bar-bending strongmen but about a boy trained into toxic concepts of “strength,” not about acrobat families literally catching each other but about two military brothers trying to support each other, not about a lion tamer but a would-be mountain man obsessed with his own wild nature.
The jacket copy and cover art are going to determine how people approach the stories, but in truth, I don’t think you need to read them as circus stories at all. That was how I organized and approached the work, but the mythology of the circus is pretty well submerged. You don’t need to be thinking about the circus to “get” the book.
Q: These stories are beautifully character-driven, but each of the stories, it seems to me, is also an impressive feat of story architecture. How did you balance the formal aspects of the stories — I’m thinking in particular here of the perspective and dialogue in “Twin” — with fully exploring the emotional lives of the characters? - Rob Cline
read more here


Christopher Manson - “This is not really a book. This is a building in the shape of a book… a maze.” Beautiful, inspirational, unsolvable

Image result for Christopher Manson, Maze,
Christopher Manson, Maze, Holt Paperbacks, 1985.

This is not really a book. This is a building in the shape of a book...a maze. Each numbered page depicts a room in the maze. Tempted? Test your wits against mine. I guarantee that my maze will challenge you to think in ways you've never thought before. But beware. One wrong turn and you may never escape! 

In 1985, Christopher Manson wrote and illustrated a book called Maze.  It really is a beautiful and unique piece of work.
Manson actually said that this book isn't really a book at all, but rather a building in the shape of a book. Intriguing, right?
Upon first glance, the gauntlet is thrown at the reader—“Solve The World’s Most Challenging Puzzle”—and believe me, the challenge is a lulu.
Each lovely page represents one room of a house that the player must navigate through to the center and back…in just 16 steps. Each numbered door on a page is a portal and some rooms lead to infinite loops while others will lead to dead-ends. Along the way, the reader is also challenged to discover an answer to a meta-puzzle.
The idea of a book acting as a labyrinth is a very cool one, and when it was originally published in 1985, a $10,000 prize was offered to the reader who could solve it the quickest. In 1988, 12 winners were chosen and they split the prize.
Since its publication, this book has spawned podcasts, clue websites and countless gallons of tears. I was fascinated with this book, but when I first got my copy, I succumbed to online message boards to help get me through it. It is absolutely ridiculous, the amount of work that people have gone through to solve this puzzle in different ways. My hat is off to them, but I just wish that I could look at Maze again with fresh eyes.
And now is your chance to journey into the maze. To help you out, I offer to you some spoilers...not that I'd use them or anything. - Michael Borys

This is not one of those pencil mazes you worked on as a kid. The entire book is one addictive maze. Each page spread is a room leading to other page/rooms. Your goal is to find the shortest route to the center and back while solving the puzzle in the center room--if you can figure out what the puzzle is. But then, each room is a puzzle filled with clues to decipher. Read the text and examine the gorgeous illustrations carefully. Beware--not every clue can be trusted. If you're an online gamer, consider this a Web site you can carry wherever you go.

When I was a child, I was given a book that was not really a book at all.
It tricked me at first. I believed anything with pages to turn, words, and pictures was a book, but as I turned this object’s pages, read its words, looked at its pictures, I felt myself in the presence of something fantastically different than the other books scattered throughout the house. In a book, I began at page one, moved to page two, and by this way eventually found myself at the end. No matter what occurred on the pages, if I kept reading I would eventually reach the final sentence, whether I wanted to or not. The thing disguised as a book, on the other hand, did not take me from page one to page two. “This is a building in the shape of a book,” it said. It elaborated, told me it was a maze and that by traveling through the rooms I might find my way to the center. Clues lay hidden in each room to suggest where to go next. Not all the clues were going to help me. Some would try and get me terribly lost. Unnerving as this was, it was also irresistible, and I spent many hours on my stomach, the maze before me on the carpet, as I wandered through the rooms, trying (unsuccessfully) to untangle the clues, and continually opening a door leading to a room that was pitch black except for the dozens of eyes staring at me. A room where I died over and over and over and over and over again.
The title of this work that consumed large chunks of my childhood is MAZE (with the flavorless subtitle, Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle). It is one of a handful of works written and illustrated by Christopher Manson, and though his others are similar in their use of fairy tale and mythic elements, MAZE alone possess a hypnotic power, transcending its binding and reaching toward something else.
Each double-page spread depicts one of MAZE’s 45 rooms. The left page contains between seven and thirteen lines of text while the right page features a lush pen-and-ink drawing of the room itself, eerie as a de Chirico with its impression that either someone has just left or will shortly arrive. Manson loosed his prodigious imagination in the creation of these spaces, crafting each room with a general theme and them cramming most of them with a mix of baroque furniture, shrubs manicured into geometric shapes, exotic birds, Kafkaesque machines, musical instruments, trap doors, lamps, crumbling porticos, strange glyphs and signs carved into the walls. Or, instead, a room may be empty except for a fire raging inside a hearth whose cavernous depths are crowned by mantle carved to look like a gaping mouth. Inside each room are doors, and each door will take you to another room. You are challenged to find a way to room 45 and then back to room 1 using the fewest steps possible. Furthermore, a riddle is hidden in room 45, and the riddle’s solution is tucked away in the other 44 rooms.
What sounds simple at first becomes morbidly, maddeningly difficult. Rather than not having enough information, the challenge becomes one of over-saturation as each elaborately arranged room and block of narrative text provides numerous pointing fingers (sometimes literally) without there being indications as to which are more valuable than others. Will the solution to a particular room become clear only after you turn the room upside down? Is a face hidden in the carving over the door?  Should you rearrange the letters in words spoken by the characters? As you move from room to room you find yourself going in circles, collapsing back into already experienced scenes, and you can’t help but wonder, as though this were really a book by Robbe-Grillet, whether or not something obscure but crucial has changed.
Of course, things have changed. As you reenter a previous room, the returning images—an umbrella leaning against a doorway or the shadow cast by a bowling pin—become new in light of something else recently seen. Each room builds on your lexicon of figures, signs, and your MAZE language. Your perception deepens, and so, to adapt the Zen koan, you never enter the same room twice.
In the attempt to unravel MAZE’s devilishly hidden secrets, a possible solution something greater presents itself. If we can take something away from this work—other than an appreciation for cross-hatch shading technique and unsettling dialogue—it is the idea of repetition as a path towards sublimity.
Our lives are, it seems, composed of a few recurring acts and motions, such as making dinner and falling in love. Once these repetitions are noticed, it can become difficult to see anything but constantly overlapping patterns tying your birth and death together in a bow. The patterns become avenues towards disquiet, the sense that we are now and will always be stamping over the same worn ground. And this is true. We are now and will always be stamping over the same worn ground.
MAZE’s major triumph lies in urging us to recognize the inexorability of continual repetition, something that becomes even more crucial in our increasingly labyrinthine world. We live with the expanding illusion of different and unique rooms, each seeming to offer momentary justification for our existence. We bound through chambers of experiences and believe ourselves to be continually ascending towards…what? Enlightenment? God? A consciousness-shattering orgasm?  But the elaborate approaches to fundamental anxieties are not new rooms so much as rearranged furniture. The rooms are the same, a fact we don’t realize until we suddenly recognize our surroundings and think, “how is it possible I am still here dealing with this?” We hold the proof of our varied and wild experience, but proof does not equate with meaning, and the awareness that our hands are gripping shrinking fistfuls of sand begins to feel like the darkest moment of our lives.
MAZE recognizes our learned desire to progress and then creates an environment where such progress is almost impossible. “You haven’t spend nearly enough time here,” MAZE seems to say, “keep looking.” At first this can seem like a punishment. We want to move upwards and onwards! How dare someone deprive us of our right to ascend! But, and this is a beauty of the printed page, MAZE does not respond to our rage. It sits patiently on the shelf until our curiosity bests our petulance and we take it down again. Then it continues from where we left off: at room number 1.
Of course, the 31 years since the book’s publication gave people a chance to solve most—I hesitate to say all—of MAZE’s puzzles. If you want, you can simply Google the answer. You will find websites and podcasts dedicated to MAZE exegesis and emulation, where fans of the work debate the meaning of symbols drawn on a scroll or the importance of an apple partially hidden in shadows. They will also tell you the identity of the narrator and how to reach room 45. However, I will caution you: knowing the solution to the riddle or the shortest path through MAZE will not unlock the secret of the work.  That can only happen by accepting the puzzle as it presents itself, in all its opacity, in all of its chaos.  Anything less is—to use a key MAZE theme—a red herring. You may think you’ve reached the center, but in reality you will have only skirted around the outer rim, never allowing yourself to be swallowed whole.
I have never reached the 45th room, which means I am always starting and continuing through MAZE. I’ve stopped expecting I’ll find the shortest route, and I can’t even think about solving the riddle. Now I enter primarily to breathe the strangeness of the spaces and to show friends who haven’t ever heard of MAZE: Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle. Because I always follow the rules and enter with disbelief suspended there are several rooms I haven’t ever seen. I’m sure I’m missing something obvious, and maybe this should bother me, but I am content to wander through the rooms whose surroundings I recognize and provide continual delight. In room 7 an abandoned toy duck looks up at me.  In room 20 a tortoise crawls across the carpet. In room 26 several devils perform a play. In room 42 a small bear holds a sign reading “saints that way sinners this way.” And in room 45? That’s something you’ll have to find out on your own. - Samuel Annis

“This is not really a book. This is a building in the shape of a book… a maze.” —From the directions to Maze, by Christopher Manson
I first read Maze as a child, on a bus. I don’t remember where the bus was going (I’m not even sure it was a bus — maybe it was a van?) because I was thoroughly and instantly inside the book. From the first page, I felt stifled and scared, full of an obsessive drive that I otherwise only associate with moments of sexual awakening. The words of the directions functioned like a spell. The book told me that it was a building, and then it was. And I was trapped inside.
Maze, published in 1985 with the tagline “Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle,” was part of a mini trend of picture puzzle books with real cash prizes, patterned after 1979’s Masquerade. But where Masquerade was dreamy, off kilter, alarming — it seemed to open up somehow to the possibilities of a world of mystery — Maze made me feel like I was sneaking off to read porn. It was like disappearing into a hole.
The rules are simple. Each page, numbered 1 through 45, is a room in the Maze. Each room has numbered doors that lead to other rooms. To go through a door, you turn to the indicated page, where you will be faced with another room full of doors and mysterious objects, depicted in Manson’s architectural black and white engravings. Your aim is to reach the center (room 45), and then escape back out to room one, in no more than sixteen steps.
When I started work on this article, I was reluctant to pick up the book again, even though I’d remembered it with intense emotion for decades. But Maze was memorable because it was unpleasant, like a drug that shows you the places where your brain can break. I’d spent what felt like days at a time dissecting its images and mapping its paths, getting stuck in its loops and traps, wanting to quit but unable to put the book down until I opened one more door, tried one more path. Rooms leading into rooms, a secret that you are trying to uncover, a chase. A sense of fascination that makes it difficult to lift your eyes or leave your house.
The truth is, I feel the way Maze made me feel all the time now. The big difference between reading it and wandering through the endless rooms of the internet is that with Maze, we are assured that there is a solution. There is an escape. There is even — if we are especially clever and worthy — a meaning.
With “Maze,” we are assured that there is a solution. There is an escape. There is even — if we are especially clever and worthy — a meaning.
Because the maze doesn’t just have a solution—it also has an answer. There is a riddle hidden in room 45, with the answer concealed somewhere along the shortest path. And this answer was valuable, not just because of how well it was guarded, but in the grossest commercial terms. Like the riddle of the Sphinx, it had multiple rewards. A publicity campaign offered a ten thousand dollar prize to the first person who could provide all three parts of the solution, but by the time I got my hands on the book, the campaign had concluded. - Reina Hardy

At a local gathering of friends the other day, the classic puzzle book Maze, by Christopher Manson, came up in conversation. Many, myself included, recalled encountering it not too long after its original 1985 publication date. At the time, we all found it a fascinating artifact, though a completely inscrutable puzzle.
The book is still for sale, as it turns out, and there's also an online, hypertext version of the book you can wander through freely. (I note that the website appears to reside among the archives of an early electronic-publishing venture, and has remained unmodified since the mid-1990s. Sadly, the scanned illustrations are formatted to fit the relatively dinky computer displays of that era, resulting in much of the fine detail getting lost. I suppose I should encourage you to go buy the book, if you find them sufficiently intriguing.)
I should correct myself and call the book semi-scrutable, at least. It represents a labyrinth of connected chambers, you see, where each page features a haunting and evocative illustration of one room, trimmed with a short bit of text where the book's mysterious narrator leads a group of squabbling explorers through. The first part of the book's puzzle, then, is simply to find a path that takes you from the entrance to the maze's center and back in 16 steps. The harder part involves teasing the text of a riddle out of all the depicted stuff that lay along this route. And this is where most mortals get stopped, finding themselves with a pile of stuff and no clues.
After I returned home that evening, it occurred to me that I probably hadn't thought much about Maze since the ascent of Wikipedia, and surely it spelled out the solution. Why, yes. And what a solution! It's amusing I can look at this more than 20 years after the book's original publication and tell you why this would get razzed by any of the hardcore puzzle people I know today.
Granted, it was supposed to be very hard, because there was a cash-money prize for the first correct response. But the Wikipedia article implies that they overdid it, since the publishers extended the deadline at least once, and it's unclear if any claim was ever made. And no wonder, really; the solution demands you selectively perform wordplay on picture and text elements along the path, but gives you no clues as to which elements are important, and what should be done with them.
For example (and I'm about to get a little spoilery here) on this page, it happens that you're supposed to get a word by taking two picture elements and anagramming them together. But for all you know, maybe you combine the A with BELL and perform a sound-alike wordplay to get ABLE. Or perhaps the word is simply BELL, after all. Or a dozen other things suggested by the image. They all seem equally right - which is to say, none especially so.
Carry this feeling over the path's 16 pages, and I assert you've got an utterly unsolvable combinatorial explosion. I would be quite interested to learn of integral clues I'm overlooking, though, or to hear about someone who solved the book without any hints! Until then, I must conclude that for all the book's beauty - and it is quite a lovely thing to flip through - as a puzzle, it would get booed off the stage at the MIT mystery hunt.
More important than its puzzle, however, is the book's legacy. Without a doubt, the book left a lasting inspiration to many, stoking a hunger to try solving more baroque and beautiful puzzles, even if that means having to create them first. You can see echoes of Maze in art-heavy digital adventures such as Myst. In fact, the stimulus for this group recollection among friends was a new puzzle designed with Maze in mind, by Gameshelf pal Andrew Plotkin. I have it on good authority that it was cracked by dedicated solvers within a day. - Jason McIntosh

Maze by Christopher Manson is, according to the cover, “The World’s Most Challenging Puzzle”. True to the claim, nobody correctly solved it during the two years between publication in October 1985 and the close of the competition in September 1987. The $10,000 prize money was instead split between several people who all got closest to the solution.
The puzzle has several parts. The first step is to find the shortest path in and out of the maze. Then there is a cryptic riddle to find at the centre of the maze. Finally, the solution to the riddle is solved by finding clues hidden along the shortest path.
This post takes a quick look at the book and provides the solution to finding the shortest path. You can also download an interactive map that keen Maze-solvers may find useful.

Maze is a picture book and the maze is made up of 45 numbered rooms drawn in black-and-white hatching. The style will either be to your taste or not. For me, the random contents and varied perspectives in each room are the draw rather than the artwork.
Each room has numbered doors leading out of it. The idea is that you choose a door and turn to the appropriately numbered page in order to move around the maze. Every page tells a different piece of a story of a group of people being led through the maze by a cruel guide. By following the maze from room to room you get to choose your own adventure. The story is more enigmatic than exciting or interesting and serves primarily to provide clues.
One trick to the Maze is that many of the doors do not have numbers on them. These un-numbered doors represent paths that lead into that room, but not out: the doors are one-way only. There are a few hints to this through the book. Sometimes the story confirms that rooms with only one numbered door have only a single way out, for example. There is even one dead end with no way out at all and a blackly humourous ending to the story.
The shortest path through the maze takes 16 steps leading from Room 1, to the “centre” of the maze in Room 45, and back to Room 1. The one-way doors mean that getting out of the maze once you’ve got to the centre is not simply a case of retracing your steps.
The Maze – click for full size version
One way to find your way through the maze is to find the clues on each page that tell you which way to go next. Many of these clues are so frustratingly cryptic that I took a different approach. I chose to map out the entire book in a free program called yEd Graph Editor. You can download it here. You can draw the whole maze out by hand, but you’ll soon have lines criss-crossing confusingly all over the place and its easy to miss some important features of the maze.

Click on the image to open the full size version of the map. The source file, in graphml format, can be downloaded here (right click and save). Play around with it and rearrange the rooms to your satisfaction!
Mapping out the room was an interesting exercise and revealed a couple of important things. At first glance, there is no way to get from Room 1 to Room 45. The maze appears unsolvable.
However, the second important clue is that the number of paths leading into or out of each room is equal to the number of doors, except in one case. Room 17 has four doors but, on first glance there only three paths that lead in or out of it. The unnumbered door in Room 17 is a secret entrance and only by finding it can you reach Room 45.
Carefully scouring every page reveals that there is a door numbered 17 hidden in Room 29. This is beautifully concealed with a perspective trick, and signposted in several other ways. I’ve marked the hidden door from Room 29 to Room 17 with a red arrow in my map.
There is also an extra door in Room 39. However, this door is bricked up with a giant Jester’s hat over the top of. To me, this is a pretty clear hint that this is not a real door.
Having mapped the whole maze, yEd Graph Editor has a couple of useful features for quickly finding the shortest path. You can click on any “node” and see its “successors” in a giant chain.
First, you can select Room 1 and quickly trace a path from there to Room 26, to 30, 42, 4, 29, through the secret door to 17, then finally to Room 45. That’s Room 1 to Room 45 in 7 steps.
read more here

“This site is devoted to the genre of the immersive puzzle,
but until there is another like MAZE, this site stands as a testament
to the brilliance of Christopher Manson, who, in one stroke
launched and mastered a new genre of literature.”   -  White Raven

“This is not really a book. This is a building in the shape of a book…a Maze. Each numbered page depicts a room in the maze.” “Test your wits against mine. I guarantee that my maze will challenge you to think in ways you’ve never thought before. But beware…one wrong turn and you may never escape!”- From MAZE, Copyright 1985.

In 1985 Christopher Manson’s “MAZE: Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle” was released and took the nation by storm. It was, most likely, the world’s most popular visual puzzle until the computer game MYST was released in 1993 which was based on the MAZE archetype.  MAZE was also the first of a new genre of puzzle, the immersive visual puzzle. Paving the way for games such as MYST, Tomb Raider and Portal.
MAZE is a picture book filled with 45 black and white hand drawn rooms. On the facing page is a conversation between the visitors and the guide. Each room, and the bit of conversation that goes with it, contains several puzzles. Sometimes the puzzle indicates the correct door to take. At other times that you have taken a wrong turn, or that all hope is lost.
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MAZE is “played” by turning to the page number indicated on the door to pass through that door. Despite having only 45 rooms, the number of connections between the rooms makes mapping MAZE practically impossible. The structure of the maze is multi-goal, non-continuous, overlapping, objective, static, and conceptual (see 
Maze Theory).
But mapping the MAZE is peanuts compared to the puzzles. Solving more than a handful of the puzzles is monumentally difficult. Mr. Manson’s MAZE, true to its title, is probably the world’s most difficult puzzle. The subtlety  depth and variety of the puzzles is incredible. Mr. Manson made use of every basic form of puzzle available (see 
Puzzle Theory), and he invented several sub-types.
MAZE contains an astonishing number of puzzles, more than 116. Of these 116+ puzzles the solution for only 21 are presently available online. I say we change that…
Welcome to the conversation.- Images and quoted text copyright 1985 by Christopher Manson

The Story of MAZE: Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle
Written by White Raven with information provided by Christopher Manson

One more cup of coffee…
It was 1984 and Christopher Manson was up late, 2 AM, scribbling and thinking. Recovering from Saturday night he was downing cups of coffee and wracking his brain for a book idea.
Manson had just finished illustrating a cookbook for a friend of his. At the meeting with the publisher he asked about possible work opportunities. The publisher had none and instead urged Manson to come up with a book idea and pitch it to him. Manson was living day to day out of a small apartment, and his bank account was near zero. And so he was up at 2 AM with nothing to show for it.
He decided to call it night but then changed his mind, “Just one more cup of coffee.” And one more cup was all it took. Over the next 45 minutes MAZE was born, the ideas tumbling out onto paper.
Where the inspiration came from, Manson says, is a thing of mystery, bits borrowed from countless sources and experiences. None the less, he was able to highlight a few specific influences. Most obvious is Manson’s interest in architecture, as displayed in the wide variety of architectural styles represented in the rooms.  Manson’s love of classic science fiction, Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island” in particular, informed the tone and general sense of wonder and disquiet. While Manson’s appetite for alchemic illustrations, forgotten books and obscure writings, supplied much of the puzzle content.
When he presented the idea to his friend’s publisher, the publisher wasn’t sure what to do with it and referred Manson to someone at Henry Holt & Company for a recommendation. Instead of a recommendation the publisher at Henry Holt was immediately sold on the idea and gave Manson an advance…and a deadline.
Over the next 9 months Manson lived off of the advance and churned out the work. After working out the main puzzle he focused on building hints and false leads. He rarely left his apartment. Day after day, he drew the painstakingly detailed inked illustrations from morning to night. The mail piled up. His hands ached and began to cramp. Toward the end he was soaking his hands in warm water several times a day to ward off cramping.

The Prize…
Manson did not make the book with a contest in mind, the prize was the publisher’s idea, as was the cover style and title. A law firm was hired by the publisher to manage the contest. Manson wanted to call it “Labyrinth” but the publisher objected due to the Jim Henson movie by that name released just months before.
Manson was unaware of the deep cord that the book struck with people in America and Britain, and the frenzy surrounding the contest. He was, however, relieved to finally have an income.
Manson had intended MAZE to be extremely difficult, but still he was surprised when the deadline came and went with no one even close to a solution. The deadline was extended and clues to the puzzle in room 45 were released by the publisher. Then the next deadline came around still no one had the solution. In the end the prize money was divided between the 10 people determined to be the closest. All ten had significant portions of the solution worked out, but no one had a winning keyword.
The Video Game…
Among other things, Manson does book restoration the Library of Congress, he lives neck deep in rare and obscure books. He is a master of pen and paper, wood block and printing press, historical ephemera and long forgotten lore. As such, his contact with computers is rather limited but he knew a little about the computer game.
In 1994 Interplay released a colorized version of MAZE with hyperlinks leading from room to room. Manson was invited to meet with the game developer, who was dealing with a serious back injury and had trouble focusing. Afterwards Manson was given a CD with the game on it and was impressed with the result, but the last Manson had heard the game idea has been dropped…he was surprised to learn that it had been produced and sold as “Riddle of the Maze” for Macintosh.
Another computer graphics version of the book began to be produced but was dropped before completion. Manson was not aware of this version and perhaps was not ever told of it since development does not appear to have gotten very far past conception. The images of this version are striking on account of the extreme lighting effects and the fact that they are only loosely based on Manson’s drawings. It is probably fortunate that this version was not produced since the content of the rooms is very altered, destroying the dearth of puzzles scattered throughout MAZE.

The Henry Holt was originally interested in a sequel. Manson showed them drawings of rooms and plans for a 100 room labyrinth. Despite considerable enthusiasm from fans – many saying it was their favorite book ever – Henry Holt backed away. “They were going through a reorganization, they were distracted,” Manson recalled, “I feel I should have pushed harder.”
In 1999 the computer game MYST became the top selling video game in history. The developers of the game reference Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island” as the source of their inspiration, (the same book which inspired MAZE) but for obvious reasons a great many MYST and MAZE fans suspect that MAZE was a central source of inspiration as well.
In the words of one fan, “More important than its puzzle, however, is the book’s legacy. Without a doubt, the book left a lasting inspiration to many, stoking a hunger to try solving more baroque and beautiful puzzles, even if that means having to create them first. You can see echoes of Maze in art-heavy digital adventures such as Myst.” – Jason McIntosh from his blog entry “Maze: beautiful, inspirational, unsolvable.”
Another more recent child of MAZE is the acclaimed 2000 bestseller “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski. The book stars a person falling into madness from reading a book about a movie about a shape shifting maze within a house, and the people stupid enough to venture inside.
With the rise of computer gaming, MAZE went out of print briefly, but growing interest (especially evident in internet chat rooms) brought the book back. Praise from sites all over internet attest to the book’s enduring power:
“My GODS people, this book is insane. I’ve owned it for two years now. Why haven’t I gotten around to writing a review yet? BECAUSE I’VE BEEN WORKING ON IT THIS WHOLE TIME. MADNESS!!!!!” – Jesse Nelson
“Good grief. This book will be the death of me. I found it years ago, still haven’t solved it, and sometimes it feels like the book isn’t even real – like I spookily stumbled across the only copy that changes as I am reading it. I have never even seen this book anywhere except for the one store I bought it from. I’m pretty sure Manson is the devil, or God, for creating a book this crazy. Good luck to you if you decide to journey down this path to madness!”- Laura
“This work is an engrossing, intriguing, thought-provoking, perspective-changing, paradigm-shifting…maze. This is a work of genius.” – J.J. Kilroy
“As you travel through the mansion, you suddenly notice funny things – the labyrinth seems to be turning in on itself. “Haven’t I been here before?” You are lost! Trapped! Muahahahaa!!!!”
 “It all starts making sense at about 3 AM amidst frantically drawn loopy maps, fragments of rebuses and the fact that there’s just something *wrong* with the stick figure in the basement. That’s when you stare blearily at the page and say, “We’ve been blind, we’ve been blind the whole time,” and start babbling conspiracy theories.” – M. Glenn
“The most engrossing book ever.” – Lily D.
The Future…
Manson has agreed to make available a drawing from his incomplete sequel to MAZE and he appears at least somewhat open to a sequel. To quote, “There are many things I wish I could have put into MAZE that would have added even more depth. For this reason I have never let go of the idea of a sequel. Your site suggests to me there are people out there that would welcome a sequel. If there is interest, I may pick it up again.”
Let us hope he does! - White Raven    9-17-13

Joseph Perl - Announced as "the first Hebrew novel," this brainy and weighty 1819 tome is in fact a variant version of the traditional Menippean satire: a criticism of the overzealous excesses of conservative Hasidism, in the form of a putative endorsement of its principles

Image result for Joseph Perl, Revealer Of Secrets:
Joseph Perl, Revealer Of Secrets: The First Hebrew Novel, Trans. by Dov Taylor, Routledge, 1996. [1819.]

The dawning of the nineteenth century found the Jews of Eastern Europe torn between the forces of progress and reaction as they took their first tentative steps toward the modern world. In a war of words and of books, Haskala—the Jewish Enlightenment—did battle with the religious revival movement known as Hasidism. Perl, an ardent advocate of Enlightenment, unleashed the opening salvo with the publication in 1819 of Revealer of Secrets. The novel tried to pass itself off as a hasidic holy book when it was, in fact, a broadside against Hasidism—a parody of its teachings and of the language of its holy books. The outraged hasidim responded by buying up and burning as many copies as they could.Dov Taylor's careful translation and commentary make this classic of Hebrew literature available and accessible to the contemporary English-speaking reader while preserving the integrity and bite of Perl's original. With Hasidism presently enjoying a remarkable rebirth, the issues in Revealer of Secrets are all the more relevant to those seeking to balance reason and faith. As the first Hebrew novel, the work will also be of great interest to students of modern Hebrew literature and modern Jewish history.

In 1819, Joseph Perl anonymously published the Hebrew novel Megalle Temirin (Revealer of Secrets) as a salvo in the battle between adherents of Haskala (the Jewish Enlightenment) and the religious revivalism of Hasidism. An ardent supporter of Haskala, Perl's book was purported to be a collection of letters between numerous Hasidim but was in fact a satire of the sect's teachings. Now Westview is publishing the book with extensive scholarly apparatus provided by Rabbi Dov Taylor as Joseph Perl's Revealer of Secrets: The First Hebrew Novel.- Publishers Weekly

Announced as ""the first Hebrew novel,"" this brainy and weighty 1819 tome is in fact a variant version of the traditional Menippean satire: a criticism of the overzealous excesses of conservative Hasidism, in the form of a putative endorsement of its principles (Ã la Jonathan Swift's ""A Modest Proposal""). An epistolary novel whose letter-writers are a pair of squabbling rabbis and their acolytes and associates, the book has more than commendable vituperative energy. Still, it is overlong and will surely prove heavy going for all but serious students of this literature (who will find the exhaustive Introduction, Glossary, and Notes a mine of arcane and curious information). - Kirkus

Exactly 200 years ago, a Hebrew book called Shivḥey ha-Besht (The Praises of the Baal Shem Tov), was published in the Belarussian town of Kopys. The Baal Shem Tov, the legendary founder of Ḥasidism, had died in 1760, more than a half-century previously, and the book’s author, Dov Ber of Linitz, was the son-in-law of a man who had been his secretary.Shivḥey ha-Besht, a collection of stories about the Baal Shem, some of them heard by Dov Ber from his father-in-law, quickly went through many editions. In more ways than one, it was a literary milestone. It was the first written life of a figure known until then to his followers and detractors alike only by word of mouth. It also initiated a new Hebrew genre, the ḥasidic tale, which would proliferate in hundreds of volumes in the years to come. And though modeled on an earlier book, The Praises of the Ari, a hagiography of the Safed kabbalist Yitzḥak Luria Ashkenazi printed in 1629, it was written in prose never before seen in a published Hebrew work: simple, functional, and lively, yet riddled with grammatical errors, calque translations from Yiddish, and Yiddish and Slavic words whose Hebrew equivalents Dov Ber did not know or bother to look for. He was a ritual slaughterer, not a rabbi, and the rabbinic language of his times, with its scholarly conventions, densely compressive style, heavy mixture of Aramaic, and erudite allusions to biblical and rabbinic texts did not interest him and was probably beyond his ken.
Ḥasidic writings existed before The Praises of the Baal Shem Tov. Yet they were homiletic and theological rather than anecdotal and were themselves composed in rabbinic language. The great battle that broke out in late-18th-century Eastern Europe between Ḥasidim and Misnagdim—or “opponents,” as the anti-ḥasidic forces were called in the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew—was fought among rabbis. Both sides knew and revered the same texts and traditions, and each side excoriated the other in their name.
The Misnagdim were the initial aggressors. As ḥasidic teachings and communities began to spread after the Baal Shem Tov’s death, the rabbinical establishment of the day, headed by the renowned Gaon of Vilna, Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer (1720-1797), did its best to stamp them out. Ḥasidism’s emphasis on emotional as opposed to cogitative experience; its downgrading of the life of study that was rabbinic Judaism’s highest ideal; its holding faith and trust in God to be no less important than observance of the details of His law; the pantheistic implications in its teachings of God’s presence in all things; the boisterousness of its communal rites and prayer, with their dancing, singing, jumping, shouting, hand-clapping, and other displays of enthusiasm; its cult of the tsaddik, the rabbinical holy man who served as an intermediate between God and the ordinary Jew—all were deemed highly dangerous. They threatened the stability of the old order and raised the specter of a renewed outbreak of the antinomian forces, unleashed in the last decades of the 17th century by the messianic movement of Sabbatianism and reaching an extreme in the libertinism of Frankism: a post-Sabbatian sect whose leader, the Polish Jew Jacob Frank (1726-1791), converted to Catholicism with his followers during the Baal Shem’s lifetime.
The more the strength of the Ḥasidim grew, however, the more they struck back. By the 18th century’s end, the two camps were in a state of outright war. Book burnings, excommunications, economic boycotts, physical violence, and houndings of ḥasidic and misnagdic minorities by misnagdic and ḥasidic majorities were common. Neither party shrank from what had always been considered, even in the fiercest of Jewish disputes, to be beyond the pale: informing on one’s fellow Jews to the Gentile authorities. In 1798, and again in 1800, misnagdic complaints to the Russian government led to the arrest and imprisonment of Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the father of the Ḥabad school of Ḥasidism, on charges of sedition and illegal currency dealings. (On both occasions, he was thoroughly questioned and freed.) In 1799, Ḥasidim accused misnagdic communal officials in Vilna of embezzling public funds; once again there were police detentions and investigations.
At the same time, success changed Ḥasidism’s character. While some tsaddikim, like the Baal Shem Tov’s grandson Naḥman of Bratslav (1772-1810), lived materially modest or even impoverished lives far removed from the desire to exercise anything but spiritual power, others took advantage of their followings to amass wealth and property. Such was another grandson of the Baal Shem, Barukh of Mezhibozh (1753-1811), who lived in a royal splendor made possible by an ongoing flow of gifts and remittances from his disciples. Called pidyonot, “redeemings,” these offerings were held to be acts of piety that assured their giver of the tsaddik’s blessings. The religious justification for them had already been provided by the first-generation ḥasidic rabbi Elimelekh of Lizhensk (1717-1787), who stressed the religious duty of supporting the tsaddik lavishly so that, freed from all economic worries, he might concentrate on his sacred mission.
By the time of Shivḥey ha-Besht‘s publication, Ḥasidism had developed an entrenched order of its own. Geographically, it was strongest in the south of Eastern Europe, in Austrian Galicia and Russian Volhynia and Podolia, all parts of the kingdom of Poland until the latter’s late-18th-century dismemberment by its neighbors, and weakest in the north, particularly in Lithuania, which remained heavily misnagdic. Politically, it was split between the Tsarist and Hapsburg empires. Religiously, it was divided into different “courts,” each headed by its own tsaddik, some co-existing amicably, others, like those of Shneur Zalman of Liady and Barukh of Medzhibozh, locked in conflict over principles, influence, and territory.
All, moreover, had a common enemy not only in Misnagdism but in a new trend, sharing some of Misnagdism’s values but clashing with its conservative rabbinate, that was rapidly becoming a third force. This was the Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment: a movement of intellectual and social modernization that, arriving from the West, especially from the Berlin of Moses Mendelssohn, had by the early 1800s struck roots in Eastern Europe, and most of all in Galicia.
One of the Haskalah’s foremost representatives in Galicia was Joseph Perl (1773-1839).
An educator and man of literary cultivation—among his accomplishments was a translation of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones into Hebrew from a German version of the English original—Perl, though he unjustly has had to vie for the title, was Hebrew literature’s first novelist; his fiction, while never paid the attention it deserves, ranks to this day among modern Hebrew’s finest. Accorded little more than passing mention by the standard histories, it has had to wait 200 years for a full-length study, the Israeli scholar Yonatan Meir’s 600-page Hebrew investigation of Perl’s major novel, Megaleh T’mirin (The Revealer of Secrets). Meir’s three ground-breaking volumes, published together in 2013, include an annotated edition of the novel’s long out-of-print Hebrew text; thoroughly researched analyses of its sources, conception, composition, encoded allusions, and reception; extensive comparisons with Perl’s later Yiddish version of it; a full bibliography, and a long essay by Dan Miron, the doyen of Israeli literary criticism. It is an outstanding achievement, and it will merit no small part of the credit when Perl finally assumes his rightful place in the Hebrew pantheon. - Hillel Halkin
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