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American Genius

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  174 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Lynne Tillman’s previous novels have won her both popular approval and critical praise from such literary heavyweights as Edmund White and Colm Tóibín. With American Genius, her first novel since 1998's No Lease on Life, she shows what might happen if Jane Austen were writing in 21st-century America. Employing her trademark crystalline prose and intricate, hypnotic sentenc ...more
Paperback, 291 pages
Published September 25th 2006 by Soft Skull Press
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(showing 1-30 of 647)
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MJ Nicholls
Jun 02, 2011 MJ Nicholls rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, merkins, distaff
Being locked inside this narrator’s consciousness is like being trapped in a lift with a dermatologist specialising in Latin words for itchy, a tweed-suited Kafka scholar, a psychotic artist, and a trivia quiz show bore who knows the exact dates of the Crimean war, then being gaffer-taped to the ceiling until the lift operator prises open the doors and saves you from this torture, only to recite his four hour lecture on eczema. Being locked inside these never-ending paragraphs, these uncoiling m ...more
Jan 31, 2008 Reese rated it really liked it
imagine...holden caufield as a brilliant, multi-faceted, middle-aged white woman. kind of. you're in her head the entire time as she ponders and deconstructs everything she encounters, and may often find yourself floored by her profound, common sense observations. on the other hand, you may often find yourself begging her to shut up...but that's just part of the Tillman experience.
Robert Wechsler
May 25, 2015 Robert Wechsler rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-lit
This seriously neurotic woman’s first-person stream-of-consciousness narrative without a plot could have been unbearable (I’m stuck in her mind, let me out!), but I found it very intelligent, fresh, and enjoyable. There is something satisfyingly realistic about the way Tillman presents the narrator's thinking process and her thoughts (realism is not generally what I'm looking for). And she handles repetition very well, too.

Most of all, I was impressed with Tillman’s intelligence and her control
Feb 26, 2009 Matthew rated it it was amazing
I won't reiterate the specifics of other, better reviews but instead suggest folks google this book and check them out. I will say that this is one of the finest, most challenging, most complicated, and most intelligent books I've read in a long, long while.
Cary Dane
Dec 21, 2012 Cary Dane rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
Just finished reading this for the second time. it's obvs the best thing in the world, duh!
Jun 06, 2010 Paula rated it it was amazing
This "novel" took me an inordinate amount of time to read. And it's only 292 pages in length! I kept picking it up and putting it down. I read one big chunk on a flight from Tucson to Oakland, however, which served to solidify this dense and almost maddeningly recursive anti-narrative for me. A nouveau stream-of-consciousness novel a la 21st century Virginia Woolf perhaps. The narrator, Helen, a middle-aged woman with extremely sensitive skin and subject to a "nonorganic pressure on the heart" i ...more
James Murphy
Nov 20, 2010 James Murphy rated it really liked it
I first became interested in American Genius when I learned that it's considered by at least one list as one of the best novels of the century so far. I was intrigued by cover blurbs comparing it to Tristram Shandy, Moby-Dick and Gravity's Rainbow. Heavy company, those titles. What I thought it most resembled was a brilliant novel by Joseph Heller called Something Happened, and the more recent David Markson novel, Wittgenstein's Mistress. Or maybe a work by Samuel Beckett but with much less desp ...more
Jul 07, 2013 Alan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Americans and geniuses, I guess, assuming that's not a disjoint set
Recommended to Alan by: A bold cover, encountered during a trawl of the shelves
Some tragic cases relate their stories with verve, though their accounts are no less sad than others' boring recitations, but they are compellingly told, and often these people draw others to them, no matter what story they tell.

American Genius: A Comedy is not especially funny, and it's nowhere near as antic or typographically inventive as Tristram Shandy, despite the cover blurb from George Saunders comparing the two. It's rather mopey, in fact—a long, introspective work, full of run-
Dec 15, 2013 Christopher rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: not you. you'll thank me.
Lynne Tillman, in her work American Genius, a Comedy, writes in a circular pattern that brings the reader back to her various objects of obsession again and again. Skin, her cats, her dog, her house that she loved, the ocean, and many other topics drift in and out of her narrative as if she were Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character in the movie Rain Man.
The whole work reminds me of a classical fugue. Helen tells the tale of her dog, for example, and any future references that pertain to any dog
Stewart Home
Dec 27, 2011 Stewart Home rated it it was amazing
"American Genius" is a beautiful book. incredibly well written, it draws you in and throws you out again, with deftly handled repetition forcing the text to hover somewhere between poetry and prose. The narrator is Helen, and Helen was the name of the "missing" character in Tillman's third novel "Cast In Doubt". In "Cast In Doubt", Helen is a young woman who appears to represent romanticism or post-modernism; while the 'main' 'character' Horace, who is searching for Helen (as a way of searching ...more
Literary Ventures Fund
Oct 01, 2007 Literary Ventures Fund rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of the stunning literary works of Lynn Tillman

This is what we'd get if Jane Austen were writing in 21st century America--a book that expands the possibilities of the national novel and of the female protagonist. Tillman brings into being a microcosm of American democracy, a scholarly colony functioning like Melville's Pequod, in which competing values--rationality and irrationality, generosity and selfishness, love and lust, shame and honor--compete with one another through a hilarious narrative, cycling through skin disease, chair design,
May 19, 2008 Justin rated it did not like it
This is one of the most difficult books I have ever gotten though. Granted, it was for a class, and granted I was supposed to lead discussion on it so I had to read it in a limited time and thoroughly, but still, I think the book itself provided most of the difficulty, I just brought the frustration.

At times, plodding my way through this, I would treat it like a super-intense workout. Two more pages, two more page, you can DO this. And sometimes I'd find myself overcome, as if the book itself pr
Katherine Furman
Aug 30, 2007 Katherine Furman rated it did not like it
I'm not going to make it to the end of this book.
The best way to describe 'American Genius, A Comedy' is a-poetical. Whereas poetry tries to capture a very certain feeling in compact lyrical phrasing, this book aims at the same thing in articulate but extremely lengthy passages. The problem is I just don't care about all these feelings if they're not connected to some kind of story. I made it through about 80 dense pages and nothing has happened. NOTHING. We weren't even past talking about the
Dec 16, 2010 Alex rated it did not like it
Shelves: prose
god this book is a drag. not even gonna bother getting past, like, p.50. apparently it gets "good" around p. 200, which for a 291-page novel, is ludicrous. "just let your resistance down and let it wash over you."

no thanks. sometimes well-composed shit sucks and is incredibly irritating to read. too bad, because there are some good ideas present in the book. i'm just not willing to sift through piles of dung for a few grains of gold.

on the plus side, reading this got me thinking more about why
Jun 11, 2008 Ryan rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
One of those books where the narrator's consciousness is blended with the zeitgeist. You can take that or leave it. Some illuminating passages connecting the history of modernism, manifest destiny, tourism, and the American Dream. Oh, and skin. Bits I liked a lot, not sure there's much left after you finish but my tastes are decadent enough not to care especially.

Here's a good quote:

"The right to pursue happiness sends me and other Americans, even here where we are meant to resist outside tempta
This is what we'd get if Jane Austen were writing in 21st century America--a book that expands the possibilities of the national novel and of the female protagonist. Tillman brings into being a microcosm of American democracy, a scholarly colony functioning like Melville's Pequod, in which competing values--rationality and irrationality, generosity and selfishness, love and lust, shame and honor--compete with one another through a hilarious narrative, cycling through skin disease, chair design, ...more
Jul 18, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sarah by: LY
Lynne Tillman will make you look at skin more closely than you may like, make you miss your childhood pets, make you learn new words, and make you read really really long sentences. There is very little dialogue, no plot, nothing really happens except for a seance. If that doesn't sound good to you, at least by the end you'll understand what the hell is on the cover.
Sep 28, 2007 Alan rated it did not like it
I think she's trying to win an award for the longest sentences ever. I'd be willing to slog through more than 50 pages of this if a) the sentences weren't just long for the sake of being long or b) there was some sort of plot, maybe a character or two, or something happening. I just couldn't take it. Maybe that's the genius of it all.
Jul 15, 2009 Katie rated it did not like it
This one requires more concentration than I can give it right now. I might need to save it for when my little one is not night-waking...I think I'll move onto a fun, no-brainer and read book 2 of the Eragon series...
sorry book club!

couldn't get through it and don't want to...
Oct 30, 2010 Andy rated it liked it
I really wanted to give this 4 or 5 stars, because I felt like it was a really great book. Ultimately, though, I stuck with my enjoyment index and acknowledged that I was bored at times and the lack of a strong plot led to lack of interest while I rode the subway.
Tom Buchanan
This book really pinned my ear back. It was hard not to compare it in at least superficial ways to Wittgenstein's Mistress, but I was leagues more into this.
Jul 29, 2008 Joanna rated it liked it
I marked this read. But I didn't actually get through the whole thing. I probably read a quarter of it. i'm not sure why. The writing was good. It's unclear.
Leonard Pierce
May 11, 2008 Leonard Pierce rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Extremely hard to get through at times, and really not as comedic as the title would have you believe, but still worth reading.
Feb 05, 2015 Jenny rated it liked it
was good but difficult to get through, I like how much she talked about dermatology and chairs and fabric
Jan 09, 2008 Leslie rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Favorite book of last year. Maybe the most perfect paragraphs I've ever read.
Richard Chiem
Jun 20, 2012 Richard Chiem rated it it was amazing
one of my favorite novels
Liz Latty
Jan 15, 2008 Liz Latty rated it it was amazing
holy crap she's smart.
Natalia Almada
Sep 12, 2007 Natalia Almada rated it really liked it
So far great.
Nogah Seidemann
Nogah Seidemann marked it as to-read
Sep 24, 2016
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Here’s an Author’s Bio. It could be written differently. I’ve written many for myself and read lots of other people’s. None is right or sufficient, each slants one way or the other. So, a kind of fiction – selection of events and facts.. So let me just say: I wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old. That I actually do write stories and novels and essays, and that they get published, stil ...more
More about Lynne Tillman...

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“The right to pursue happiness sends me and other Americans, even here where we are meant to resist outside temptation, on a hunt for it. If I’m not hungry, I might seek other forms of happiness, or pleasure, which is part of my American birthright, though the most misconceived notion of them or the most difficult to realize; I can pursue several means and ways to be happy, if I am able to forget what makes me habitually sad.” 7 likes
“I like to believe I enjoy surprises, that I'm someone to whom an eruption of the unusual should be usual, or who branches out to advance the implausible. I might fly a jet, become a man, walk backward without a care, threaten like a stalker, speak freely at all times, swim the Atlantic on a greasy back, be silent for months like a Carthusian ...” 3 likes
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