Hogg by Samuel R. Delany

Before taking a creative writing workshop with Sam Delany last summer I read only one of his books, Nova, a science fiction novel first published in 1968. While Nova was an excellent book, with action, drama, and social commentary found in the best sci-fi, I found out later that his most acclaimed science fiction works are Dhalgren and Trouble on Triton. And much of his best writing isn’t science fiction at all.

This summer I decided to read Hogg, a novel that took over thirty years to get published.

This has to be one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. I can understand why it was so difficult to get published. Even Olympia Press refused to publish this book because of its sexual content.

I was reading a 2nd edition published by FC2 in 2004.  Although it is incredibly disturbing, it is also brilliantly written. Delany is a master of the writing craft and spared nothing to make this a meaningful novel.

I’m not sure how audiences might have responded to this work in the early seventies. I imagine it would have been even more shocking to them. But since then we’ve had decades of depravity (fictional: American Psycho and historical: Abu Ghraib). There were moments when I had to mentally distance myself from the page, but one can become inured to just about anything. It was the sustained level of sexual violence and total lack of compassion in the characters that was most troubling.

But there was also something I recognized in the narrator (a young boy taken in by a rapist-for-hire): his attitude towards the suffering of others is one of curiosity. Unlike most of the characters in the book, the narrator is able to empathize with others, but for him, empathy doesn’t translate into compassion. His morality and ethics have developed in a world brimming with violence and abuse. He is a survivor in a world where, as the book jacket says: pity becomes a betrayal ?.

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