On Wings of Song

Of course, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but there are covers, and there are covers.

Take Thomas Disch’s On Wings of Song, which was recommended several years ago by John Crowley, who taught me at Yale. Like much of Crowley’s work, On Wings of Song is finely written, richly imagined “science fiction.” The novel, published in 1979 and set in an imagined 21st century America, pirouettes from a Iowan police-state—complete with fundamentalists, horrific termite farms (protein), and neo-feudal manors—to a decadent, unstable, bohemian New York. The protagonist, a sometime singer and frequent sufferer, wants to, through music, depart from his body and fly (as is possible in his day). It’s a very sad novel about, among other things, artistic transcendence, and it is itself, as a result of remarkable artistic control and workmanship, transcendent. Without knowing much about Disch’s life, one can sense that there’s been a remarkable transmutation of autobiography into something far stranger.

And then there’s the cover. Continue reading