Kevin Wallace reviews Fugue in C Minor in Goodreads:
I read a draft version of Fugue in C Minor and found the story interesting and many of the issues fascinating. Having now read the new version, I face the challenge of seeing it on its own terms. I gained certain impressions of the novel from the draft, and found that in the end these were not quite the direction Dickinson took it in the final edit. So my perspective needs a little adjustment. As I am fond of saying to my students, every text provides its own set of reading instructions, so I had to relearn them for the second version.
In doing so, I definitely enjoyed it, as I have all of Dickinson’s published stories thus far. He is very good at developing plots that are not always straightforward, surprise-laden, and which bring in and integrate issues of characters and theme that would sound disparate if I were to list them. One late revelation about a principle character in appears jarring, and I felt I was not properly prepared for it. But that is just one, amid many that I found quite satisfyingly unpredictable. For the most part, he integrates them well and makes good sense of them. To mind mind, his stories reflect the complexities of real-life characters: while I may not see myself in Maxim Edgars, I can recognize in him my own frequent confusion, and the way my life story is buffeted in various unpredictable directions by the often contradictory impulses to which I guess we are all subject.
Fugue’s real strength isn’t so much the analysis of an amnesiac rebuilding his memories. Instead it is his protagonist’s growing understanding of himself as part of a love relationship. Maxim has the unique opportunity first to reinvent his life, and then, due to his brain injury, to reinvent his own relationship with his past, and the way his present is affected by it. The story shows what such an experience could mean – to be freed from the influence of past errors, betrayals, the real and the imagined selves that one must live up to. As Maxim rediscovers his past, he’s in the enviable position of being able to choose between his various possible selves, and to sidestep (but never erase) the guilt and regret that, for most of us, make such choices so difficult, no matter how many times we have to make them.
In a way, the “fugue” or amnesia aspect of the story comes off, in this version, as more of a device – a situation – that makes Dickinson’s unique discussion of love and marriage possible. I found myself wanting more psychic angst – the fear, the distrust, the paranoia – that I suppose such an experience might entail. But that’s because “angst” is my personal oeuvre. To be sure, Dickinson doesn’t neglect these aspects; but I admit I was hoping for more of it.
These minor caveats aside, I “really liked it” (to quote the Goodreads rating criteria). Of the three novels I’ve read by this writer, Fugue in C Minor has been my favourite (I look forward to the rumoured rewrite of Virtual Silence). What I like best about Dickinson’s storytelling is here in strength, and I have to say, I learned a few things. Can’t be bad!