To ask other readers questions about Quicksand , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Sort order. Jan 27, John rated it really liked it Shelves: , mystery-detective , opera. Robert Ashley's primary gig is as an opera composer. Not operas like you would see at the Met, like Turandot or Don Giovanni. Ashley's operas consist mainly of rambling monologues, mostly intoned by Ashley himself with his dry Michigan accent, over atmospheric music.
It might sound ridiculous but it actually works very well. His most famous opera, Perfect Lives , is the story of a very avante garde bank heist, but the text is only peripherally related to the story. Instead, it's as if Ashley taps Robert Ashley's primary gig is as an opera composer.
Instead, it's as if Ashley taps into some subterranean river of words that courses somewhere deep in the unconscious mind and siphons up thoughts and associations and insights that only see the conscious light of day when we're on the verge of sleep. It's not that the story isn't important, it's more like the text exists under the story, and we're following the story from inside the characters' unconscious minds.
It's part poetry, part theater, and part spiritual tract.
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Quicksand is Ashley's attempt at a straightforward novel. An obsessive fan of mystery novels, he decided to make his first novel a mystery. What he ended up with is more of a cool-headed political thriller that, despite having the rough contours of a thriller, has none of the conventional tension of the genre. The unnamed protagonist, who bears a strong resemblance to Ashley, is a secret agent for the US government, and during an overseas assignment, in an unnamed nation resembling Burma, he gets sucked into a coup plot.
I don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that the coup goes down without a hitch, and the protagonist at the end of the novel is barely any different than he was at the beginning. He encounters no serious obstacles along the way. There really is no drama to the plot. This seems to be entirely intentional. In his forward to the novel, Ashley has this to say about "plot": A few critics have remarked that my operas have no plot. Many contemporary operas have no plot, because our idea of what a plot means has changed a lot since the Italian composers of the nineteenth century used plot to express political ideas.
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So, the no-plot criticism is valid—though perhaps not particularly important. Almost all of my operas were composed without any thought of the need for a linear plot. Contemporary opera—my work in particular, but, that of a lot of other composers, too—is usually a gathering of characters with stories to tell.
The why-the-characters-are-together has replaced the notion of plot. Instead of plot, voice is the main attraction.
I'm pretty sure that a good deal of my enjoyment of this novel came from hearing Ashley's voice in my head as I was reading it. His voice is airy, very high in the throat and somewhat scratchy, very laid back. So, the novel--it's an odd mix of high-stakes thriller and Robert Ashley opera. I loved it, but maybe it's an acquired taste.
Mar 10, Michael Dipietro rated it really liked it. This is really only for Robert Ashley fans. Quicksand is the libretto for an opera he wrote in the s in espionage novel form, which I saw staged in NYC in I think? His sense of humor really shines through in the writing.
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