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Games of the Blind

This is a vivid and frightening tale -- a brilliant novel!

If you're like me, and you're a man, you may read this book and wonder, "How could a woman writer understand a man so well -- understand the raw, ugly, visceral feeling of being a man -- understand the wretched, petty things men do and feel?" This is a book about psychological depths, and Evelin Sullivan understands -- and writes about -- these depths astonishingly, even frighteningly, well.

"Games of the Blind" is a brilliant novel narrated by a truly vicious man -- a twisted monster of a man, to be sure, but it is Sullivan's weird triumph that she renders the narrator so true-to-life, so heartbreakingly human that we find ourselves sympathizing with him even as he commits the vilest of acts. It's been a while since I've read "Games of the Blind," but roughly the plot is this: When the story begins, the narrator is a sensitive, intellectual young man who falls in love with an older woman while he is on vacation with his parents. This is a formative experience, the force of which shapes the rest of his life. For some reason (do his parents die?) he is sent to live with an aunt and uncle and their fat, self-loathing daughter. He preys upon his cousin mercilessly -- sexually and emotionally -- and this is rendered even more repellent because she adores him so.

We follow the narrator into adulthood, when he becomes a psychologist and becomes entranced by a female patient who stirs memories of that haunting affair he had as a teenager. This relationship leads to the book's satisfyingly shocking climax. The theory and practice of psychology are central to the book -- the narrator even includes several "theoretical interludes" in which he attempts to analyze himself and the events that overtook him. In a sense, the book becomes a profound meditation on the alienation of gifted teenagers; on the life-shattering powers of love, lust, and infatuation; on the diverse forces that blindside us, shape us, destroy us; and how "free will" can even become an empty concept if you understand the torrents of rage, sorrow, and longing that surge underneath the facade of the "self" that most of us present to others. So in addition to a story that you won't be able to put down, the book is deeply philosophical as well.

I think the best thing I can say about this novel is that, of all the books I have read for pleasure and for "work" (I used to review fiction and poetry for two publications), it shook me up more than any book ever has. I was genuinely depressed for a week after reading it -- I felt I had glimpsed absolute evil in the character of the narrator, and this glimpse sent me reeling. To my way of thinking, in this age of literary fads, slick packaging and stylish posturing, such aesthetic truth is almost old-fashioned, an outdated virtue superseded by cheap, quick, well-paid productions of hacks (most "literary" writers are hacks, in my book). But Evelin Sullivan succeeds in rendering life so truthfully it leaves you shaken by the encounter. Only the highest art could produce such an effect.

Let me end this review by saying that it's a bone-chilling indictment of American literature (readers? editors? reviewers? a vast conspiracy? I'm not sure who to blame) that you haven't heard more about Evelin Sullivan. She is a true genius, who writes exquisite prose and crafts gripping plots, but who has been inexplicably ignored by literary taste-makers, and is hence undiscovered by intelligent readers who would certainly share my belief that she is a writer of world-class talent, if they'd only heard of her! A real shame. But please don't take my words as the meaningless warbling of a fan -- put them to the test. Pick up "Games of the Blind," read the first thirty or forty pages, and see if you have not fallen into the book's dark clutches. I'll wager you a beer at the Showdown Saloon here in Austin that you will not be able to put it down.

(If you enjoy "Games of the Blind" -- and if you're a "good" [meaning literate, astute, attuned to the nuances of language, both its surfaces and depths as careful choices of the author] reader I don't see how you can't enjoy it -- you should also read Sullivan's book "The Correspondence," which is quite different from "Games of the Blind" but every bit as brilliant. A thick and boisterously comic novel, by and large, but very poignant and inflected with similarly dark themes as "Games of the Blind.")

Reviewer: A reader from Austin, Texas
On, May 23, 2000