LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 23, No.4 - Winter 1977
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1977 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Mykolas Sluckis. Setting Sun (Saulė vakarop). Romanas Vilnius: Vaga. 1976. 430 p.
An early novel by Sluckis, Adam's Apple (1966), had been hailed by critics in the Soviet Union and in Lithuania as a break-through in experimental writing. The most commented aspects were the use of stream of consciousness, fragmented narration with omissions and intertwining temporal levels, deep psychological analysis penetrating into the subconscious. At the same time, a very skillful realistic portrayal of the entire atmosphere helped to maintain a certain link with the then still strongly advocated socialist realism. Sluckis has been quite prolific short stories and novels, with several translations into Russian ever since, and there has been no radical break in the constants of his style. There is even a clearly detectable repetition of issues, situations, character types, although each new book is a testimony to his desire to experiment with narrative techniques.
Setting Sun, one of his most recent novels, centers, like many others, around the theme of freedom the final interpretation of which is left to the reader. In order to achieve both objectivity and relativity, Sluckis has adopted two modes of narration here: two well-structured fragmentary developments, using both the first and the third-person exposition.
While the third-person fragments depict in a more realistic or even naturalistic manner the social milieu viewed by a more or less omniscient narrator, the first-person alternating chapters delve more deeply into one conscience. The most fortunate presentation occurs in the beginning chapters, where irony acts as a mirror allowing a double vision of the narrating individual. (One might almost assume that Sluckis has learned from Brecht's Verfremdungstechnik, although in this case both the actor and the public is one and the same I). The ambit is further enlarged by frequent shifting of temporal levels.
Sluckis has always been a master in creating original metaphors or similes. Here, he sometimes even falls back onto such old devices as premonition or parallels between the character's state of mind and nature, so popular with the Romanticists. These, however, are soon revealed to be created on purpose: to juxtapose old-fashioned sentimentalism and the grotesque or absurd situations and reactions of modern life. Quite consistently, the chapters have an open ending.
After the first six-seven chapters, the inventiveness as far as discourse is concerned diminishes, and the hovel unfolds in the usual Sluckis' manner: ever widening the circle of social strata, relations, situations, concentrating more on realistic presentation after the initial promise of new structures and techniques. Constantly, new characters are introduced, giving only a fleeting glimpse of them: brief encounters in a cafe, a hospital, a crowded bus. They allow for new revelations, more flash-backs, greater opportunity for implied criticism. Linguistically, the novel cannot be called innovative: its language is conventional, rich in vocabulary, but not experimental.
Sluckis remains one of the foremost figures among novelists in Soviet-occupied Lithuania, achieving a most complete picture of the daily chores and little problems of life over there, adding ambiguity with a masterful use of irony. Actually, since Adam's Apple his books could be used as most effective, if unconscious, anti-Communist propaganda if translated in the West.
University of Wisconsin