Monday, February 4, 2008

ON THE YARD by Malcolm Braly

Thanks to the New York Review's book publishing wing, NYRB Classics, I've discovered another great, unfortunately neglected novel, Malcolm Braly's On The Yard. A prison novel originally published in 1967 and long out of print until rescued by NYRB, this book may be the last great monument of American Modernism. As decentered as an Altman film, with a cast of dozens and no real central character, the novel treats the prison as a Joycean city and takes its structural cues from "Wandering Rocks" and Mrs. Dalloway, allowing the point-of-view to 'float' among the characters without seeming to privilege any one consciousness. This allows Braly to wander at will all over the prison universe, from the warden and the guards to the saddest and the most nihilistic inmates, creating a novel that seems almost too rich for its 300-odd pages. Surely the best and most surprising book ever written on the American prison system, this is a truly great novel, an unfairly overlooked masterpiece of American literature.

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