Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders
|Author||Samuel R. Delany|
|April 17, 2012|
Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is a novel by Samuel R. Delany.
An excerpt from a draft of the novel was published as "In the Valley of the Nest of Spiders" in issue 7 of Black Clock magazine.
A set of typographical corrections for the published novel has already been released.
The novel begins in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 6, 2007, where we meet Eric Jeffers some six days before his seventeenth birthday. Eric is living with his adoptive father, Mike. The story follows Eric as he goes to live with his mother, Barbara, in the fictive "Runcible County" on the Georgia coast. There, living in the town of "Diamond Harbor", Eric learns that a black, gay philanthropist has established a utopian community for black gay men in a neighborhood called the Dump. Eric takes a job with the local garbage man, Dynamite, and his nineteen-year-old helper, Morgan. The two boys become life partners, and the novel follows them—through job changes (from garbage men, to managing a pornographic theater, to handymen), changes of friends, and changes of address (from a cabin in the Dump, to an apartment over the movie theater, to another cabin out on Gilead, a nearby island)—into the twilight of their years. Though it does move many decades into the future and off-handedly mentions fictional future events and technologies, the novel does not exactly fit within the realm of science fiction.
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Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders can also be viewed as a companion piece to Dark Reflections, Delany's immediately previous novel. But where Dark Reflections centers on themes of loneliness, sexual repression, fear, and the difficult life of the artist, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, in sharp contrast, celebrates companionship, love, sexual openness, and freedom. Toward the end of Dark Reflections, we learn that in his youth, Arnold Hawley, the novel's protagonist, ran away in fear from a situation that would likely have changed the course of his life. Early in Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, Eric is told a story by Bill Bottom, a neighbor of his. Bill, like Arnold, ran away from a situation that had the potential for great happiness. He concludes by asking Eric to promise that when he is presented with his own choice—and, Bill insists, that moment will come—to choose happiness, no matter how afraid he might be to take that path. The major themes of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders are love, relationships, and the consequences—both good and bad—of taking that chance and making the choice to go after what makes you happy.
Beginning relatively early in Eric's life (while he is still seventeen in the story), he repeatedly expresses a desire to do good things for other people. This is a thematic element that spans the novel.
There is also a very strong tie to Baruch Spinoza. He is mentioned early in the novel, and in the latter half, Eric is given a copy of Ethica by a character named Mama Grace. Eventually, Eric reads Ethica several times. It shapes and reflects his actions and attitudes.
In recent interviews, Delany has stated that it is his design to have Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders straddle the lines between literature, science fiction, and pornography.
Delany has said, in an interview with Kenneth James, that he was inspired to write the book by a quote from Vladimir Nabokov. The quote occurs, in a slightly different form, in Nabokov's essay "On A Book Entitled Lolita", which is included as an afterward for the novel itself:
there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.
Literary Significance and Criticism
Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders quickly garnered several extremely positive reviews. Roger Bellin of the Los Angeles Review of Books finished his detailed review stating "Though it shouldn't be most readers' first exposure to Delany, this is nonetheless a book worthy of his career full of masterpieces — and a book that no one else could have written." Steven Shaviro states that "it is the best English-language novel that I know of, of the 21st century so far." Paul Di Filippo's review in Locus and, with a few caveats regarding the sexual and "culturally invested" language in the novel, Jo Walton's review at Tor.com are also full of praise for the work.
Edward Parker of Lambda Literary states that "Time is an important theme throughout the book. Delany has constructed the story so that time passes slowly in the beginning—the whole first half of the book covers only five of the novel’s seventy years—and then accelerates as the main characters age, structurally reflecting the human experience of time.... But I wondered occasionally, especially in the novel’s first half, whether the story could not have been told in fewer words [A passage] is certainly among the best descriptions of toastmaking that I’ve encountered, this detail didn’t seem to do much to advance what was taking place in the scene. Might the manuscript have benefited from a little more time under an editor’s gaze? On the other hand, the passage is kind of pleasing anyway, and the accumulation of such passages, perhaps, serves to construct the feeling of the slowness of time for the reader.".
- Reading at St Marks Bookshop, NYC April 23, 2012.