Tours of the Black Clock
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Tours of the Black Clock

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  486 ratings  ·  47 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 1st 2005 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1989)
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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 E...more
May 22, 2014 Brian rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
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
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
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...more
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.
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
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
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...more
Anna Janelle
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...more
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
Charlie L
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...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
Really dug this at the time. Was this the one about Hitler's pornographer? Can't remember ...
Jamie Grefe
Probably one of the best books I've read this year or any year for that matter...
Niklas Pivic
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...more
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
Jess Blevins
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)...more
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
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...more
Apr 19, 2014 Corey marked it as to-read
I read an interview with David Foster Wallace in which he says that this book is "really fucking good."

That's enough for me to consider reading it.
A darkly mythic, genre-twisting tale about art's complicated relationship with identity, morality, and history - with Hitler's personal pornographer as the protag. In this case, "Hitler gets the girl!" is actually a valid spoiler. Or is it? The story unfolds in the creases between two 20th centuries - one where the Nazis won, and one where they didn't. And maybe a third, featuring herds of miniature silver buffalo and an ice machine that just keeps chunking out big blocks of ice, unattended, dow...more
Marge Simon
Absolutely fantastic!
First re-read - July 09 after finishing the book in March 08, needs another re-read to fully make sense, but this time the story of Banning Jainlight and Dania from split universes, one a pornographer for Client Z whose writings about Dania are seen by Z as being about the love of his life Geli and send history on a careening course, the other a Russian exile and dancer for whom men literally die for started cohering better; still a masterpiece of dark imagination with mesmeric writing that you...more
Shawn Baker
Wow. Just wow. Somewhat frustrating at times - although probably not entirely the book's fault. I've been so busy it has been hard for me to read more than a page at a time and so both this and The Universe Doesn't Do Second Chances have suffered - but well worth it in the end. A fever dream. Reminds me quite a bit of William S. Burrough's Red Night Trilogy.
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.
Sean O'Neil
Unsettling, dystopic, confusing but enjoyable in a challenging way. Steve Erickson's books can't be read quickly, nor can they be read in a place where you will have distractions. I would suggest reading this book shortly before or shortly after Martin Amis's "Time's Arrow," they explore similar themes in equally unsettling but totally different ways.
Never much one for alternative history, Erickson's poetry catapults this beyond the realm of the strange and absurd into that of art. A haunting vision. "Through the warm fog of his last breath, he watched the memories of a hundred ghosts drift skyward to finally and vainly burst." Masterful.
This is a strange vision, but some really impressive writing. For some reason, it reminds me a little of Bolaño, but I can't really say for sure why. It has some great energy and some amazing ideas and description. I'm not sure if I would have picked this one myself, but I'm glad I read it.
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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...
Zeroville The Sea Came in at Midnight Days Between Stations These Dreams of You Arc d'X

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“1939. Love rages. It cries out from you, seething and red; I come back for more and more.” 2 likes
“This was the day his life split in two. Her name was Kara.” 1 likes
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