For some unfathomable reason - and no doubt also to other devotees of his early novels - Erickson has gained only a small readership, although he has garnered some impressive reviews by a number of critics both in the US and Europe. Sadly, I just don't think Erickson has ever been marketed or promoted properly or with any real understanding of how amazing and original a novelist he is.
`Tours of the Black Clock' is his third novel, and should have been the key to his literary stardom; his `breakout' fiction that should have, but didn't, take him to new and more popular heights, following his marvellous Rubicon Beach and equally wonderful Days Between Stations. Sadly, this has not been the case, and his novels since, while still gaining some excellent reviews, have led him to a readership that is tiny by comparison to many other more popular `literary' novelists. For this fiction at least, there is no doubt that Erickson deserves more attention and celebration, and popularity. His fiction has a stark, poetic and haunting brilliance, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison (at her most intense; i.e., with her novel, 'Beloved'). It is a fantastic, fantastical work that cannot - should not - be ignored and is a wonderful alternative modern history twist and take on key events/people in the 20th century.
The novel begins with Banning Jainlight, who is found dead in a boarding room, along with Dania, the obsession of his life, and Marc, their son - a product of surreality itself. Dania's and Marc's presence acts as a sort of catalyst, enabling Banning to narrate his story and, by doing so, reveals the myriad and complex memories that connect them and shape their histories.
Banning's life is experienced in a non-linear way; chronology and space become multi-dimensional as one memory merges with another. At the same time, his thoughts often assume a physicality, shaping the history of Dania's life, and extending and weaving the web of characters and stories that are being told.
Without his at first realising, Banning becomes a writer of erotic, strange stories for Adolf Hitler's consumption during WW2; stories which - unbeknownst to Banning - fuel Hitler's megalomaniac passions. History overturns itself, becoming a nightmarish Wonderland, and the world becomes bleak and decidedly Orwellian in this alternative reality.
The last several lines ending this tour de force are a match for (and an homage to) James Joyce's ending in his most famous short story, The Dead, from his collection, Dubliners, when the main character Gabriel watches the snow fall. The sentences are brilliantly, beautifully written and moving.
This is truly mesmeric modern fiction at its best. It portrays an overwhelming knot of obsessions of voyeurism, erotic desire, of the licentious nature of power unchecked, and of the pain and anguish that make up the absurd time (black clock) that ticked away on the face of the 20th century. Amazing.