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Double or Nothing (1971)

by Raymond Federman

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911222,197 (4)7
Double or Nothing is a concrete novel in which the words become physical materials on the page. Federman gives each of these pages a shape or structure, most often a diagram or picture. The words move, cluster, jostle, and collide in a tour de force full of puns, parodies, and imitations. Within these startling and playful structures Federman develops two characters and two narratives. These stories are simultaneous and not chronological. The first deals with the narrator and his effort to make the book itself; the second, the story the narrator intends to tell, presents a young man's arrival in America. The narrator obsesses over making his narrative to the point of not making it. All of his choices for the story are made and remade. He tallies his accounts and checks his provisions. His questioning and indecision force the reader into another radical sense of the novel. The young man, whose story is to be told, also emerges from his obsessions. Madly transfixing details--noodles, toilet paper, toothpaste, a first subway ride, a sock full of dollars--become milestones in a discovery of America. These details, combined with Federman's feel for the desperation of his characters, create a book that is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. The concrete play of its language, its use of found materials, give the viewer/reader a sense of constant and strange discovery. To turn these pages is to turn the corners of a world of words as full as any novel of literary discourse ever presented. Double or Nothing challenges the way we read fiction and the way we see words, and in the process, gives us back more of our own world and our real dilemmas than we are used to getting. Picked for American Book Review's 100 Best First Lines from Novels… (more)

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» See also 7 mentions

Gladly, it is over. I do believe that as time passes I will appreciate more my reading of this most-original book. But for now brand me burned, rightly forgiven, and smoldering on the stake. ( )
1 vote MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
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Once upon a time two or three weeks ago, a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man decided to record for posterity, exactly as it happened, word by word and step by step, the story of another man for indeed what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal, a somewhat paranoiac fellow unmarried, unattached, and quite irresponsible, who had decided to lock himself in a room a furnished room with a private bath, cooking facilities, a bed, a table, and at least one chair, in New York City, for a year 365 days to be precise, to write the story of another person—a shy young man about of 19 years old—who, after the war the Second World War, had come to America the land of opportunities from France under the sponsorship of his uncle—a journalist, fluent in five languages—who himself had come to America from Europe Poland it seems, though this was not clearly established sometime during the war after a series of rather gruesome adventures, and who, at the end of the war, wrote to the father his cousin by marriage of the young man whom he considered as a nephew, curious to know if he the father and his family had survived the German occupation, and indeed was deeply saddened to learn, in a letter from the young man—a long and touching letter written in English, not by the young man, however, who did not know a damn word of English, but by a good friend of his who had studied English in school—that his parents both his father and mother and his two sisters one older and the other younger than he had been deported they were Jewish to a German concentration camp Auschwitz probably and never returned, no doubt having been exterminated deliberately X * X * X * X, and that, therefore, the young man who was now an orphan, a displaced person, who, during the war, had managed to escape deportation by working very hard on a farm in Southern France, would be happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to come to America that great country he had heard so much about and yet knew so little about to start a new life, possibly go to school, learn a trade, and become a good, loyal citizen.
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Double or Nothing is a concrete novel in which the words become physical materials on the page. Federman gives each of these pages a shape or structure, most often a diagram or picture. The words move, cluster, jostle, and collide in a tour de force full of puns, parodies, and imitations. Within these startling and playful structures Federman develops two characters and two narratives. These stories are simultaneous and not chronological. The first deals with the narrator and his effort to make the book itself; the second, the story the narrator intends to tell, presents a young man's arrival in America. The narrator obsesses over making his narrative to the point of not making it. All of his choices for the story are made and remade. He tallies his accounts and checks his provisions. His questioning and indecision force the reader into another radical sense of the novel. The young man, whose story is to be told, also emerges from his obsessions. Madly transfixing details--noodles, toilet paper, toothpaste, a first subway ride, a sock full of dollars--become milestones in a discovery of America. These details, combined with Federman's feel for the desperation of his characters, create a book that is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. The concrete play of its language, its use of found materials, give the viewer/reader a sense of constant and strange discovery. To turn these pages is to turn the corners of a world of words as full as any novel of literary discourse ever presented. Double or Nothing challenges the way we read fiction and the way we see words, and in the process, gives us back more of our own world and our real dilemmas than we are used to getting. Picked for American Book Review's 100 Best First Lines from Novels

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