Author: Kathryn Davis. She is the author of several previous novels, including The Thin Place.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy
Readers: Professors Michal and JoLee, stay-at-home moms Dana and Marina, and teacher Shannon.
Summary: Mary and Eddie are meant for each other—but love is no guarantee, not in these suburbs. Like all children, they exist in an eternal present; time is imminent, and the adults of the street live in their assorted houses like numbers on a clock. Meanwhile, ominous rumors circulate, and the increasing agitation of the neighbors points to a future in which all will be lost. Soon a sorcerer’s car will speed down Mary’s street, and as past and future fold into each other, the resonant parenthesis of her girlhood will close forever. Beyond is adulthood, a world of robots and sorcerers, slaves and masters, bodies without souls.
Our Take: Our readers all agree that this unusual book is mystifying, strange and otherworldly. Some loved it but others didn’t.
I said this to myself as I finished- in one day- Kathryn Davis’ Duplex. From the first paragraph of the jacket blurb, I was expecting something straightforward story about a teacher living in a complex with some colorful characters, some who are her students. What I got was an almost Ray Bradbury-ish set of vignettes that all tied together if you allowed Davis to take you on a journey. There were times that I wanted to give up but Davis almost stream of consciousness writing (a style that DID NOT work for me in my previous review) was almost like fast-flowing water taking a rafter to the end of the river.
I wanted to see where these characters ended up. Nothing ties up with a happy ending and at times, what the characters struggle with is heartbreaking, but somehow that is a part of real life. The passage of time wasn’t linear but you were able to see growth and change in all of the characters over the course of the novel. It’s short, so it deserves a second, a third, even a fourth reading, to grasp a better understanding of the star-crossed lives of the characters and to develop a deeper appreciation for the melding of reality and fantasy.
I’ve been curious about Kathryn Davis since I heard about her novel, The Thin Place, so I was excited to get her newest, Duplex. I knew it would be inventive and original, and it certainly is. Davis creates a world that is like our own but with robots, sorcerers, and a bear-baby. The synopsis might sound like a pulply urban fantasy, but it’s true literary fiction. Be warned: Duplex is weird. And I mean really weird. And I even like weird stuff. I love Franz Kafka and Eugene O’Neill; The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite books. Actually, Duplex kind of reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s work. Like The Martian Chronicles, Duplex reads more like a series of loosely connected stories than a traditional novel. Also, the tone of Duplex is similar to some of Ray Bradbury’s writing. Kathryn Davis keeps things very cool and detached. That tone is definitely intentional, but I can see how some readers would be disappointed with how disconnected they feel from the characters. This is one of those books that is going to receive all kinds of praise from a certain group of readers, but it’s also going to lose a lot of people. I think if you want to read this book prepare for it to upend your expectations–if that’s possible.
Read Instead: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
I struggled to get through this book. It was so odd to me; I never grasped the point of the plot. Actually, I struggled to even find the plot, although that may have been the author’s intent. While well written, the novel was just bizarre and uninteresting. I was not invested in any of the characters, and I felt like there was symbolism or deeper meaning to be discovered that eluded me. Towards the end of the novel certain things were revealed that better explained plot points from earlier in the book, but at that point I just didn’t care. I need books to have characters I can connect with, and plot lines that are meaningful and engaging, and this book lacked both. While it may be enjoyable to some, it was simply too esoteric for my taste.
Duplex is a magical tale for grown-ups that entertains while making you think. Kathryn Davis created a strange universe full of magic and robots and the underlying fear of the world ending. It’s not all gloom and doom though; the characters fall in love and go on adventures.
The writing is beautiful, deep, and full of rich, sensory details. This odd universe makes you think about our own crazy world with fresh insight. If you like your novels to be straight-forward and easy to digest, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are willing to open your mind and senses, you will most likely find yourself enjoying this eccentric tale.
By all appearances, the setting of Duplex seems familiar: a suburban street where middle aged teacher Miss Vicks lives alongside her students, school sweethearts Mary and Eddie, with her childlike dachshund. But this suburb is folded in time and place, dominated by a sorcerer and populated by both humans and robots. In the blurred lines where fantasy and reality meet, Kathryn Davis has found her space.
My first inclination after finishing Duplex’s slim 208 pages was to turn the book over and start again, a luxury I’ve not often had with books that toy with my mind because of their length. Even on a first read, what becomes clear is that, despite its small size, there are endless pieces to pull apart and examine within the pages of this novel. The figures Davis creates appear more as vignettes than directly connected characters, many with just the slightest threads binding them together. Combined with the overall dreamlike feel of the book, there seems to be a single unifying piece missing – though, that may be the intention.
What cannot be overlooked is Davis’s incredible ability to spin together a sentence and bring her world to life in such a small space. Duplex is an ambitious novel, best for readers who don’t mind an eccentric mix of characters or working out puzzling bits of ambiguity.
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