I greatly admire Sturgeon’s writing, but this novel, ostensibly a mystery, is not a highlight of his career. It has a certain fame because of the taboo nature of its subject material, which I will not reveal here—not for reasons of prudishness, but because if you ever wanted to read this novel yourself, knowing the subject is a horrible spoiler. For that matter, the title is also something of a spoiler, akin to Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop.

What I did find interesting about the book was its method of construction. There’s a framing device (both opening and ending) that is written in second person, not something you run into that often. The rest of the book is presented as the contents of a psychologist’s manila file on a particular patient. In the file are letters (mainly O-R, or off-the-record, between the doctor and his military commander), transcripts of patient sessions, results of psychological tests, and a very long piece of subjective writing by the patient. The latter makes up the largest section of the book, a first-person account of the subject’s life as told by him in the third-person that reads like Faulknerian stream-of-conciousness. I confess to having skimmed a bit, as the details of how to hunt and capture small prey, detailed and deadpan, grew tedious.

Sturgeon didn’t write very many novels, which unfortunately raises the profile of this rough beast, which probably would have been better forgotten than notorious.

[Finished 3 Mar 2018]


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