Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Michael Seide

The Common Wilderness
by Michael Seide



About the author:

Michael Seide is the author of The Common Wilderness, A Book of Stories. He is married to the writer, Katharine Shattuck, and lives on Roosevelt Island.

About The Common Wilderness:

The Common Wilderness is the chronicle of Joe Bellinson who, at the classic age of twenty-one, is in crisis in every facet of his life in a historic time of trouble, namely, the great depression. The drama begins the day he declares he is going to quit his job. It ends after a week which seems like a century. The story itself is as pure as a table-line used in drawing. The protagonist is such a thinking animal that he compels the writing to be as dense as it is polyphonic in order to incorporate this added dimension, this aura of a mind in action. Above all, he is a natural in-person who quickly attains a plural identity as he moves with increasing awareness and excitement through this vast urban conglomeration of things multiplied by people. People themselves are the themes. It is through this inescapable presence of people that he discovers that he cannot act independently without involving others, that the basic human condition is not merely one of isolation, but also one of almost indescribable complicity. The terrible stalks him everywhere. Yet each path of the maze of this common wilderness which he invades, and through which he must wander, is quickened by his wit and illuminated by his wonder. Until finally it is for us as it is for him. One of the truly tremendous journeys in life is to travel from terror to revelation. At the heart of which is a universal and overwhelming compassion. The Common Wilderness succeeds in taking such a giant step.


"Michael Seide's The Common Wilderness is an original, energetic, language wrought, imaginative work by a daring writer. It is a lusty, intricate novel of a life in the Thirties ascending in art."

—Bernard Malamud

"An astonishingly determined, sustained, lyrical and profane work that takes us up from the city streets to the heights of witty despair that is really an exultation of language. For all its harsh material, it is wholly a literary work - many-tongued, bitter, solid in every pore. It hit me very hard."

—Alfred Kazin

"Hart Crane's 'the fury of the street is one of the great phrases of our literature since Baudelaire, when, in the 'ant-swarming city,' 'the ghost in broad daylight plucks you by the sleeve.' Michael Seide has caught and articulated this fury, has made it lament and scream and sing: has bodied forth the city-sensibility at its most naked and creative. His vision is all-out, and his language matches it. I have read no more powerful and releasing books in years."

—James Dickey

"Mike Seide's epic novel is the greatest creative effort I have been associated with in my lifetime - 30 years in the making. If it calls forth unused mental muscles in the reading, think of what a galaxy of brain-cells (and every other kind) it forced to their fullest in the writing. There is no book like it in America, there will probably never be another; its niche is secure, even though time and tide and controversy will wash over it before its true features are made permanent and clear. Seide, at 70, is the last and youngest member of a dedicated literary generation - the modernist generation - to 'go all the way.' It was all promised in the stories discovered by Katherine Anne Porter and Robert Penn Warren, and published by Harcourt, Brace in the collection, The Common Thread to splendid reviews by John Chamberlain, Isaac Rosenfeld and Mark Schorer. Now here is the heroic fruit. Eat slowly, it's a dish unlike any other."

—Seymour Krim




Time may, or it may not, skip a heartbeat thinking of it. It may scuttle away from the sight of it, like the draft and emblematic rush hour it is often imagined to be, or it may simply remain seated, so that the proud calligraphy of its profile may be admired, with one passive paw raised like the ampersand thus: & — sign which sees nothing, yet seems to know it all. Or it may be that stylized eye which looks awful whenever it sees an additional soul, in sort of buglike maneuver, try to force itself through a tiny crack into the future. Before going any further, would not this be a good time to ask the birds to come out and cheep more lucidly, if not more gaily, between the syllables?

Confound his innocence, confound it now and always. He and his possessive case. Quite nimble at deception by nature, he foists it on the first slow-thinking sucker he meets because he, Joe, has misbehaved, and knows it, and so must have something quick to sweeten his existence, that is, something in lieu of an answer to that question which is not his only, that question which is beginning to be piped so pathetically by so many everywhere, do I still belong to you, world, do I? What? No more talk of owning it, only of belonging to it.

Trample on the roses, and throttle on the nightingale, if the war-waging begin to quack, and the murderous to quake, how is anyone to know what topsy-turvy item will be tossed at him next? Indeed when a man regards the mollycoddle of today with his supersubtle life of a lunatic, with his neurotic concern with the shadow instead of the substance, with his bloated penances, interior and personal, he is pricked by nostalgia for the singular brutality of the past which can be measured, weighed, and dissipated, for the olden days of the roysterer with his red cheeks and his smouldering soul which was never easily bruised or easily made to feel sorry. It may not be wise to praise so a pagan interlude. But Joe might well drop his head and suck his finger as he tries to assimilate it. How significant it is, and typical of him too, that his brilliant venture of yesterday should seem to him today like the fuzzy invasion of a caterpillar of a clean and communal wall onto which it had quietly crawled, and as quietly clung, another hairy affair, cockily baking in the sun, musing on its metamorphosis, feeling so sure of itself, and so safe.