I am slowly working my way through a list of Neil Gaiman’s favorite fantasy novels that he posted on Facebook a few months ago. There are two entries for Gene Wolfe, and I greatly enjoyed the other one, “The Book of the New Sun,” which is actually one long novel divided into four separate books. The other Wolfe entry on Neil’s list is this one, a standalone novel written by Wolfe at the beginning of his writing career and published in 1975. It is indeed a puzzle. Here’s what Wikipedia says:
Peace is a psychologicalfantasy/ghost story novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, published in 1975. It is the story of a man from a small Midwestern town in the early to mid-20th century, Alden Dennis Weer, who narrates various memories from different parts of his life, including his childhood, early adulthood, and middle to old age.
Further from Wikipedia:
Unlike a lot of Wolfe’s work Peace is a standalone novel set in a somewhat contemporary time and place (as opposed to the future or an imaginary world). Despite this, the story of the novel is one of Wolfe’s strangest and most difficult; the narrator’s consciousness at times seems to transcend time and space, as if he’s narrating from beyond our plane of reality. One interpretation is that the narrator, Weer, is dead, and the scattered memories are those of a ghost; in 2014, Wolfe confirmed that this was his intention.
There’s no clear narrative thread in the book, it wanders like the wandering of an elderly mind from era to era of the character’s life, much as the elderly man wanders from room to room of his house, lost. The stories within stories comprise much of the book, but they aren’t always complete in one place, and important events are left out or purposely told in an evasive way. Reading “Peace” was a bit like the time I was trying to read a novel while feverish from the Flu. There were many interesting stories and moments, but I couldn’t keep things clear or make sense of the book as a whole. I can see why Neil might love it, as a writer himself he would appreciate all the ways Wolfe plays with the form and goes against the expected, but I can’t say I really enjoyed the book. I liked “Book of the New Sun” much more. This is not Joyce’s “Ulysses,” but it’s similarly tangled at times.
In case you’d like to try it yourself, a link is below.