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Tours of the Black Clock

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  677 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
Cutting a terrifying path from a Pennsylvania farm to the Europe of the 1930s, Banning Jainlight becomes the private pornographer of the world's most evil man. In a Vienna window, he glimpses the face of a lost erotic dream, and from there travels to the Twentieth Century's darkest corner to confront its shocked and secret conscience. One of Steve Erickson's most acclaimed ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 9th 2005 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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mark monday

My name is Banning Jainlight. I write fiction, specially tailored fiction: pulp sex American adventure stories. I write them for a very specific clientele. These clients, these monsters, they come into my life and I enter into theirs. Am I a monster, am I their fellow monster, their comrade-in-arms? My birth was monstrous, and I dealt with my monstrous family as they deserved - monstrously, as their own monster. I fled to New York; I fled to Europe. To Hitler's
Apr 02, 2014 Brian rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brian by: mark monday
I've been thinking a lot about this book recently - two months after finishing it Banning Jainlight haunts me like an unscratchable itch on a phantom limb. I wouldn't be surprised to find that Steve Erickson is really a powerful warlock and his magics are threaded into the words of his novels. Bewitching, truly.

This isn't my favorite novel I've read all year, but it is the one to which my mind keeps returning. Erickson's protagonist struggles to understand what it means to be alive in a world t
Mar 21, 2013 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I discovered Steve Erickson thanks to a review of Zeroville in Rain Taxi. Zeroville was a minor revelation; I wanted to foist it upon every novel-reading person I came across for the next couple months. I found an author new to me with a substantial back catalog worth seeking out. A couple years later I bought Tours of the Black Clock at Myopic Bookstore in Chicago. If you ever find yourself in the middle of the country, check it out. It's a good used bookstore, and just down the street from Qui ...more
Feb 15, 2010 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marking the first appearance of Davenhall Island, a mysterious and isolated rock accessible to mainland America only by ferry, Tours of the Black Clock opens with the local town prostitute's son, Marc, yearning to become the next ferryman. As the island is lapped by the mystical waters of Erickson's phantom earth, the ferryman-aspirant conjures up the ghost of the improbably-named Banning Jainlight, formerly the chief pornographer of der Führer and subtle influencer of the course of Second World ...more
Nate D
Jan 23, 2017 Nate D rated it liked it
Recommends it for: The secret exit from the 20th century
Recommended to Nate D by: dispatches from a sunken Venice
Shelves: 80s, read-in-2017
Spanning an entire era and grappling with the pivotal crises and conscience of the 20th century, this is almost overwhelming in scope and ambition, an oblique secret history / remythololizing / psychiatric case history of a world in bedlam, spun with a pulp precision belying its beautifully formed turns of phrase and piercing images. However, Erickson's reach here may exceed core coherency. The actual primary narrative is a kind of conflation of The Man in the Castle with The Entity: parallel hi ...more
Vit Babenco
Nov 12, 2014 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I never fail to enjoy postmodern history... In the postmodernist’s hands history unavoidably turns into farce – however dark but farce anyhow.
“I also knew such a version of the Twentieth Century was utterly counterfeit. That neither the rule of evil nor its collapse could be anything but an aberration in such a century... in which the black clock of the century is stripped of hands and numbers. A time in which there’s no measure of time that God understands: in such a time memories mean nothing
bobbygw bobbygw
Apr 07, 2011 bobbygw bobbygw rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
For some unfathomable reason - and no doubt also to other devotees of his early novels - Erickson has gained only a small readership, although he has garnered some impressive reviews by a number of critics both in the US and Europe. Sadly, I just don't think Erickson has ever been marketed or promoted properly or with any real understanding of how amazing and original novelist he is.

`Tours of the Black Clock' is his third novel, and should have been the key to his literary stardom; his `breakout
Oct 12, 2008 Carl rated it really liked it
Steve Erickson should be much more famous than he is, at least as famous as, say, Haruki Murakami, a writer he has a fair amount in common with, in particular Murakami's Wind Up Bird Chronicles or Kafka On The Shore. His stories are always unstuck in time and place, there is this theme that all history is happening at the same time. It's in this one, Zeroville, The Sea Came in At Midnight, Arc D'X... All his books put together in a row feel like a single epic in Erickson world, like the worlds o ...more
Feb 08, 2011 Sirama rated it really liked it
Shelves: stories
Let's be honest: the plot does not satisfy the hunger for a story. Somehow, the language holds you to the viscera of the text, igniting the hope in your mind that on the last page it will all make sense. It doesn't, as it should (rather shouldn't) if one is to read an intriguing and truly historical novel. Truly, meaning not in the least, and the point is just that, there is no point. Not a starting one and certainly not narratively speaking. Read this without an agenda, because it will destroy ...more
Dec 30, 2007 Bradley rated it it was amazing
I didn't really like this the first time I read it. But there was just something about Erickson's writing, and I tried another book by him. Now he's one of my favorite writers. I liked this one a lot more my second time.
Oct 30, 2016 Whitney rated it it was amazing
A kind of Nazi fever dream. But in a good way.
Feb 19, 2014 Michele rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: time-travel, wwii
I liked this book, but I'm not at all sure that I understood it. The writing is compelling, almost hypnotic -- I found it difficult to put down -- but I always felt as if the actual meaning was hidden just around the next corner. Or as if the true meaning had trickled out of the sentences just before I got there, leaving only enough shape to hint (or misdirect?) as to what was going on. Mulholland Drive meets Borges, Jorge meets The Guns of the South?

This is a story about...well, I'm not just su
Anna Janelle
Jul 11, 2012 Anna Janelle rated it liked it
It's not often that I say this, but I was fairly confused with this read.


The story begins with Marc, a man who has foresaken his village and mother upon discovering a dead body at her feet. He travels everyday to the village via boat, acting as a means of transportation for visitors to the island, never leaving the boat on these frequent trips. When he sees a beautiful young girl who travels on his boat to the island never to come back for the return trip, he is lured off the boat to visit his
Feb 27, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Aside from Gravity's Rainbow, this has one of the most resonant opening lines I've read. There's a fable-like quality to all of Steve Erickson's books - really elegant sentences that follow elliptical paths - that makes the kinds of connections only accessible in altered states. Although his other novels do this to a greater extent, the post-apocalyptic worlds, he creates have a really heavy sense of atmosphere that remind me of even sadder versions of Bellona in Stephen Donaldson's Dhalgren. If ...more
Jun 17, 2007 Craig rated it it was amazing
A twilight trip to an alternative version of the 20th Century Steve Erickson claims kinship with authors Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon, and its easily to see why. Like those authors, he subtly twists the nature of reality and history until it resembles the inner (both philosophical and psychological) landscapes of his characters. This novel is about white-haired Marc and his mother, who live on a small island in the middle of a fog-shrouded river in the Pacific Northwest. They have an estran ...more
Josh Luft
Aug 15, 2013 Josh Luft rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A winding, surreal novel where people, space, and time are fluid. It opens with a sublime section involving Marc, who becomes the boatman of a ferry between his small island home of Davenhall and the mainland. The tale of his existential tumult, featuring beautiful imagery of him crossing back-and-forth over the river in an ever-present fog, as well as a quest for a girl in a blue coat, could function as its own short story or novella. Instead, we're transported to the narrative of the main prot ...more
Jess Blevins
Jul 24, 2013 Jess Blevins rated it really liked it
This was a beautiful read - Erickson's prose is like a mix of Philip K Dick and Toni Morrison. This is an excellent example of magical realism - the relationship between Banning Jainlight, Client Z, and Dania is gripping in its intensity, and it didn't particularly bother me as the reader that there was some sort of magic involved.

I have only two complains:

1. (view spoiler)
Dec 06, 2016 Ben rated it really liked it
An extraordinary and audacious book about the nightmare of the twentieth century, a novel of stories within stories interlocked in shapes that cannot be adequately described. A meditation on the nature of fiction, history, time, and reality itself. At the center of it all is Banning Jainlight, one of the strangest, most fascinating characters in modern fiction. A hulking man capable of extreme violence, he is at times lucid, at times deranged, and narrates with a maniacal sense of humor. Central ...more
Charlie L
Jan 13, 2012 Charlie L rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
As this book slowed toward its end, I began to think of it as the opposite of a love note--a hate note--to Adolf Hitler. It appeared to be the 19th century's hateful serenade to its most hate-filled citizen. Yet further than that, this turned out to be not the case. This book is far more human than that. It is just as dark, yet just as human as "the small miserable life of an old senile memoryless man" (257).

It is as dreary as it is compelling; as seductive as watching evil suffer. It is someth
Mikko Saari
A difficult book. Fascinating, but at times hard to follow. Not my favourite Erickson (that would be The Sea Came in at Midnight). Interesting look on the Twentieth Century and the nature and humanity of evil. The book is very much about Hitler, but the perspective is fresh.
Apr 24, 2016 Sara rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
I'm a fan of Erickson's Zeroville and enjoy him much more when he's referencing film a little more directly. Here we get windows and war and large Third Man silhouettes on the streets of Vienna, but I found myself nodding off. Also, the ripple effect of men's boners on history and the fabric of space and time really doesn't interest me. If I'd read Gravity's Rainbow, I'd get all pretentious and say 'Pynchon does it better.' Bummer.
Jamie Grefe
Aug 23, 2011 Jamie Grefe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-fiction
Probably one of the best books I've read this year or any year for that matter...
Really dug this at the time. Was this the one about Hitler's pornographer? Can't remember ...
Mike Polizzi
May 15, 2017 Mike Polizzi rated it liked it
Parallax pulp from an alternate 20th century, where time bends and the thinnest rays of light escape. The novel takes a phenol bath merging creator and creature, subject and object in a kind of Pygmalion ouroboros. Formally inventive, porous and twisty- sometimes overblown, the narrative voice often felt schematic- a design for a brilliant novel.
Matthew Hunter
Say you're a young person hard on your luck. Maybe you killed someone, committed arson, and fled to a major city to live anonymously on the streets during the Great Depression. Then you get your big break. You're a published author! And one patron whose identity remains unknown can't get enough of your ham-fisted erotica, and is willing to pay for it. You're off the streets! Things are looking up! Until you learn that Hitler's your patron. Yep, that Hitler. You're Captain Evil's personal smut gu ...more
Joseph Ramirez
While recently visiting Pensacola, I stayed at a hotel that offered, among its many amenities, a library. A plaque on the wall told me that it had been donated by a couple in 1994, and after looking at every title on the shelves, I settled for Tours of the Black Clock. Admittedly, the selection was pretty awful, or I would have never chosen a book that included "Adolf Hitler" with "twisted erotic fantasies" in the blurb, but with such high commendations printed on the same back cover, I decided ...more
Kara Kilgore
Jun 23, 2016 Kara Kilgore rated it it was amazing
Erickson's prose is intimidating and beyond gorgeous. He makes the story accessible to his readers and he doesn't sacrifice clarity for ornamentation. When I read his work, I panic, because I can't write prose like that. Not yet anyway. I'm also comforted because his writing teaches me so much about language I'm choosing to use in my own work,so I feel like I have work to do with my own writing, and that his prose is something to learn from and aspire to. My prose can always improve. I love his ...more
Jan 21, 2013 Steve rated it liked it
Steve Erickson has a terrific imagination, but this book is a cartoon. Though I have to give him credit for the ingenious way he weaves the story out of initially separate threads, ultimately I didn't think the characters were worth all his effort.

It's odd that, although Erickson is using Nazism and WWII to describe the "Twentieth Century" as a cesspool of evil, he never engages with anything resembling real history or politics. It's as if Erickson considers the ideological and societal dimensio
Niklas Pivic
Jan 21, 2014 Niklas Pivic rated it really liked it
This is a compact book. The contents seem effortlessly written, and read like watching water flowing. There's no hardship in reading this book, apart from the contents; I won't go into details that may spoil this for you, but it's big, and I actually felt as though two books had finished by the time I was 11% into it.

The author's use of language is commendable, as it's easy to read and digest, while the characters and their inner thoughts are less palatable (to me, at least), but are so interest
Aug 23, 2016 Jess rated it it was amazing
Stunning. Having just re-read this a decade on from the first time, I was blown away once again by the visceral reactions that I had to Erickson's prose. His writing is beautiful and sublime and thought-provoking in the very same moments that he is describing horrors and tragedies.

The novel is an intricate and tremendously woven story for which I think the reader must be prepared to be open to. The storytelling is beautiful and there are full pages which I could read over and over for their ele
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Stuttered as a child, a motif which often appears in his writing.

Began writing stories at age seven. Began publishing as a teen. Wrote first novel at seventeen.

Studied film and journalism at UCLA.

Received Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007.

More about Steve Erickson...

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“1939. Love rages. It cries out from you, seething and red; I come back for more and more.” 3 likes
“This was the day his life split in two. Her name was Kara.” 1 likes
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