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Island People

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  46 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
In this complex novel, a gay man who has fled the violence of the city for an island retreat spends his time keeping a journal and writing stories. He invents a female alter-ego who haunts him, as does the ghost of the murderer who occupied his house in the 19th century; ultimately these hauntings are manifestations of his own psychic disintegration. Considered by many to ...more
Paperback, 309 pages
Published June 1st 1996 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1976)
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He was an island of ruined men.
This is how a dream is read. This is how a nightmare is read. This is how echoes of the past are read. This is how loneliness, isolation, desire, depravation, desperation, sorrow, love, lust, hate, pain, pleasure are read. And here I thought that reading this book would be like a fun voyage to an Island. How wrong I was and how glad I am. I wanted to shout, I wanted to type this whole review in uppercase just to put across my point in case anyone misses it that
mark monday
Jun 02, 2016 mark monday rated it really liked it
Recommended to mark by: Nate D
there sits a lonely old man in a lonely old house, brooding his life away...
I live in nightmare. My primary activity is concealing that fact. I am less and less successful.
it is a house of many memories, many scenes. the scenes come and go and bleed into each other. is one scene connected to the other? it may have a different cast of characters, it may have characters that overlap. each room is its own story, its own era; yet it is all the same house.
A house is a copy of a brain, divided into
Nate D
Nov 14, 2011 Nate D rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: summer people and other ghosts
Recommended to Nate D by: winter people, channeled to the frozen sea
A macabre house of chambers, resembling eachother in minute echo but with an incomplete system of connecting doors. Each room leads to another, but no blueprint can contain all of them, at least not within any single architectural reality.

As a complex novel of stories and fragments, this works exceedingly well. Each story is functionally self-contained and effective, but the novel that encompasses (dissects, transmutes) them is far more than their sum, unsettling and provocative and tragic. As a
Apr 11, 2012 knig rated it really liked it
Difficult (but rewarding) going: Dowell demands, more than any other author I’ve read, full and unwavering mental engagement. Here is a description of a guest at a dinner party:

In a crowd of silent listeners she resembles an outcopping in the sea (birth trauma long forgot) composed of those virtues of speech which hold in themselves a kind of enthrallment. But she also occupies herself, sprawling across her own broad base, like a degenerate siren. When one by one thralls are broken[....]looking
Stephen P
Jun 20, 2016 Stephen P rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Highly recommended for those willing to enter another world only to find themselves.
Recommended to Stephen by: Garima
A review is following me and threatening to catchup. I fear the worst.
Aug 10, 2016 Brian rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brian by: mark monday
Island People is the kind of telescoping, serrated novel that contains sentences and characters that are out to cut you. Each self contained section of the book seeks out the other parts in a yawing stretch of loneliness; the insular habitués and Doleman's dynamite writing produce a hypnotic cadence that causes the reader to place the chapters into a mind-map archipelago in order to just hold on for another page. It's brilliant. I'm not entirely sure where this all was intended to end up, but I' ...more
May 04, 2007 Eugene rated it it was amazing
a strung together series of short stories a novel makes, this time. the best book ever. in death-defying sentences and in a tremendous organic and complex structure, this book is an autobiography of the best kind, made completely of true lies, which rewards you with basic insights into the human condish, a now deceased nyc artworld, and one spectacular case-history of schizophrenia.
Tim Mcleod
May 19, 2015 Tim Mcleod rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Dowell's prose is incredibly dense, but in a delicious way where you have to put the book down to unpack and savor what you've just read. I did have trouble through the 70-80% mark fitting in what exactly was going on; whether it was my own mental failing, lack of attention span, or fault of the author I can't say.
Island People is definitely worthy of a diagram or two. I disagree however with some of the descriptions of the text being about "a descent into madness/ look into schizophrenia" etc.
May 03, 2016 Jeff rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Probably a 4.5 star; I'm trying to be less miserly with the five star rating. I'm glad I read this on airplane flights, where I could read slowly, without electronic distractions. A little bit of a shame Dowell didn't get to writing novels earlier, the talent pops right off the page, such a great grasp of both the language and the nooks + crannies of the six inches between the ears.

At times I was reminded a bit The Blood Oranges while reading, so I was not surprised at all to read afterwards tha
Jun 07, 2016 Erik rated it really liked it
A sinister and skillful exploration of fractured identity and the writing process itself. Impressive yet underappreciated — recommended for cerebral and adventurous readers everywhere.
Eddie Watkins
Oct 08, 2014 Eddie Watkins rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-fiction
My god the first 50-60 pages (all I've read thus far) are absolutely mesmerizing.
Ronald Morton
Feb 24, 2016 Ronald Morton rated it it was amazing
While I was reading Coleman Dowell's first novel, One Of The Children Is Crying, I kept getting this line from a Mountain Goats’ song stuck in my head:
People say friends don’t destroy one another, what do they know about friends?
Which, I felt was thematically appropriate for that work, but just not specifically appropriate (as almost the entirety of One Of The Children Is Crying is about how families destroy one another). Well, hell, it looks like I get to reference the quote after all thoug
Brent Hayward
Feb 27, 2016 Brent Hayward rated it really liked it
Obtuse, erudite, and sad as hell. A loose novel (of stories and journal entries) that orbits in McElroy's realm of (in)accessibility. Chris, a lonely gay man, runs a guest house on an island off NYC. The guests, his past, his loneliness. and ghosts all bleed into the book as he details his decline. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what happens. Powerful nonetheless.
Jun 19, 2016 Matthew rated it did not like it
Didn't have a clue what was going on most of the time. It's a pretty tough read. Others may like it more but it was too much for me.
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Born in Kentucky in 1925, Robert Coleman Dowell is one of the great post-war US writers. He is the author of 5 novels including One of the Children is Crying, Island People and Mrs October Was Here.

Coleman Dowell's short stories, as is much of his work, are difficult to contextualize, shatter prior conceptions of what fiction should encompass, and break away from previous fictive forms. Some of t
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“All there is, is fragments, because a man, even the loneliest of the species, is divided among several persons, animals, worlds. To know a man more than slightly it would be necessary to gather him together from all those quarters, each last scrap of him, and this done after he is safely dead.” 3 likes
“You drive, walk, eat, look at television, read, and all the while, beyond you and the cozy circle created by your lady around herself and you, like the natural emanations of stars, other lives circle yours, seeds still winged and wind-borne, looking for sympathetic soil. You feel the juices and solids of your body in attempted rearrangement, or, more disturbing, making an effort to create a stillness that approximates death, beyond which the body does become soil, receptive to all wind-borne seeds. In a not especially prolonged stillness, as though no chances could be taken that you might decide to become perpetual motion, words fall out of the air, a random fall from which you might be tempted to make selection, and as you do not move, cannot, a string of words falls onto you, and from you, onto the paper: winter rye greening up, smoothing the old brown earth with a fine new plane: Carpenter Rye, neighbor.” 0 likes
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