Weak in Comparison to Dreams
For years, Samuel Emmer has monitored bacteria levels in drinking water for the small city of Guelph.
He is content to focus on dangerous life-threatening single-celled organisms as his grasp on his own life recedes—and with it, family and friends. To be sure, it is more than a little surprising when Samuel learns that he has been appointed to the city’s Zoo Feasibility Committee. Even more so, that he is being tasked with interacting not just with animals, but human beings. His assignment: travel to zoos around the world and gather information on the stereotypical behavior of animals in their enclosures—the city of Guelph aspiring commendably, if naively, to a cruelty-free habitat for its animals. It is in Tallinn, Estonia, that the dreams start for Samuel. He is in a vast wooded landscape; there is a fire burning in the distance; and it is coming his way…
Weak in Comparison to Dreams, by the historian and art critic James Elkins, is like no other novel you have ever read, even as certain inspirations, from Sebald to Tokarczuk, are clear. With an astounding breadth of knowledge and playful courage, Weak in Comparison to Dreams reignites our love for the ambitious novel with experimentation that never lacks intention, and whose empathetic scope explores the deepest aspects of our individual humanity.
Praise for Weak in Comparison to Dreams
"The long life of Samuel Emmer gives all-world art critic and first-time novelist James Elkins an epic canvas on which to entertainingly dramatize the ethics of zoos, the music of contemporary composers, and the lives of amoebas, all in twitchy, often hilarious prose. But all you need to know is that J.S. Bach rocks and James Elkins rolls. "
—James McManus, author of 'Positively Fifth Street'
"WEAK IN COMPARISON TO DREAMS is an experimental feast, an illuminated palimpsest, a labour of intellectual love. It will push and pull and ask you, just how do you think you read?"
—Maria Fusco, author of 'History of the Present'
"This is an astonishing book; mesmerizing, dreamlike, full of fantasy, grimly real. Samuel Emmer’s disturbing year of visiting zoos — his grim encounters with disconsolate animals, his bewildering dreams, his confrontation with his own life — escalates to an all-consuming inferno before fading away into a vaguely remembered past. James Elkins has written a book of shimmering depth. His remarkable, expansive and materializing imagination produces a toppling sense of vertigo and a deep pleasure that so many connections, carelessly unseen, exist all around us. Never before have I felt such empathy for a diagram, nor could I have anticipated such fascination with the compelling descriptions (and depictions) of musical compositions about pain and suffering. WEAK IN COMPARISON TO DREAMS is a novel that will haunt its readers even as it enchants."
—Pippa Skotnes, author of 'Lamb of God' and 'The Book of Iterations'
"Erudite and immensely entertaining, WEAK IN COMPARISON TO DREAMS takes the novel where it has never gone before. Using the two unlikely disciplines of zoo science and contemporary avant-garde piano music as arenas in which to immerse his main character, James Elkins probes what it means to be human. He has written a powerful, sometimes angry, and, yes, wise book. I was hooked from the first page. "
—Terry Pitts , creator and author of the blog VERTIGO
"I would expect nothing less from the man whose ground-breaking writing about art, painting, and photography changed the way a generation of artists view their own media. Like Virginia Woolf’s 'To The Lighthouse' or Marcel Proust’s 'In Search of Lost Time', Elkins's deft wrangling of memory combined with ephemera is breathtakingly innovative and alters the idea of what the experience of reading can be.
—Kimberly Brooks, artist and author of 'The New Oil Painting'