by Matthew Stadler
Published by Scribner
Published September 1993
325 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
August 20, 1997.
Matthew Stadler’s second novel, The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee, is very ambitious; I think that his reach exceeds his grasp.
That the war on drugs and protecting children from sex is leading to a police state is more the theme of his third novel, The Sex Offender, also set a short time into the future in a city not unlike Stadler’s native Seattle. The one where historian Dee, whose research is on the history of insurance, has been semi-hibernating, is on the East Coast but is as caffeine-addicted as Seattle.
The adult only has (or seems to have) sex with a youngster at the end of DND. The unwelcome feeling of complicity on the part of the police state is in both books.
DND is more like Landscape: Memory in grappling with the nature of perspective (here, mostly literacy, but also historical research). Instead of drawings, DND is filled with the score of Purcell’s opera based on The Tempest with a tamed Prospero. This is the (sole?) opera that was performed in a Dutch opera house on the edge of the North Sea in the 1680s. The insurance of the opera house is what sparks Dee’s research.
There is also a maligned dwarf, Amelia, who had been Nicholas’s father’s lover. (I’m not sure that Nicholas is gay, though I think so. Stadler outspokenly is.)
There is a lot going on, some lyrical writing about landscape, and the two youths in the entourage of the diminutive mistress of Dee’s father who was also his ghostwriter. All is very complicated, and, like The Sex Offender, it doesn’t come together. The whole is less than the sum of the parts.
©1997, 2016, Stephen O. Murray