Dhalgren is as much a work of art as it is a novel. If you're looking for a book with a coherent, easy to follow plot, which requires no concrete-thought and little effort - then this book is not what you're looking for.
Centrally, Dhalgren is focused on a post-apocalyptic city and a memory-challenged, half-psychotic, losing the battle with sanity and reality drifter, dubbed "The Kid", who loses a complete handle on normal time, and who can't remember his name or his past.
In the Kid's world, he experiences one day while others may experience three. Where he experiences one night of sleep, three full days have elapsed. This is a world that takes the races and pushes them together, that takes sex and discusses it as graphically and honestly as any novel I've read. This is a book that takes society and strips it stark naked and allows you to watch as it continues to function.
That said - Dhalgren is not the plot, but the adventure. You have to be in the mood for stream-of-consciousness thought from the main character (possibly a mirror of the author himself?), disjointed plot, and be okay with the fact that not everything is going to be understood the first read through. I've reread Dhalgren twice since my original reading and find new things every time. I've had different thoughts on each reading. Though, as a constant through all my readings, my emotions follow the book like a roller coaster. Throughout the reading I have periods of depression, restlessness, thoughtfulness, happiness and other emotions evoked through the story. I only find this in the very best of books.
This is a book that must be read to be understood, and re-read to be fully valued. It should be approached as a work of art or not at all. Take a chance on this book! If you don't like the book by page 100 then you won't like the book, period. But, if by page 100 you are as enthralled as I was, strap yourself in - you're in for a treat.
While I love PA literature and read it with a passion, this was not my cup of tea. But, if you liked "This is the Way the World Ends", "The Sheep Look Up", or "The Hospital Ship" this book might be yours... It contains elements of each (so no--I didn't like those books either). :)
From the inside cover:
In the crippled city where time has lost its meaning
and violence is swift and sudden,
a nameless young man with no memory appears....
He shares his great strength
in a loving trinity with a young boy
and a haunted beautiful woman,
in that time before the end of time.
I made it all the way through this HUGE book (nearly 900 pages)... but it was a struggle. I read brain candy like King and Piers Anthony, Terry Brooks, C. S. Freidman, etc. I don't like to have to think too hard to understand the story--I want it spoon fed for the most part. This (for the most part) is NOT that type of book/story. This book definitely is more of a 'brain tester'... it starts out sort of disjointed.. then becomes more linear in the middle.. but by the end its definitely non-linear and a struggle to follow without paying close attention (and even then--I didn't get some of it).
Similar to "this is the way the world ends" the story largely is about the main characters thoughts/ideas, and less focused on events. Similar to that book too the book flies off from seeminly coherent, semi real events to complete fantasy (that seems disjointed/non sensical).
Throughout the story you wonder what's happened in the city of Bellona (10th largest in the US)--The city is deserted and many parts are in shambles/destroyed. The few people who remain are lawless... society has completely degenerated. Fires burn out of control in sections of the city.. people ransack houses and steal to survive... Time has no meaning, space contorts making travel in the city challenging, etc. Gangs run the streets, no one works... etc.
A warning--Similar to The Hospital Ship, this book has a "mature" theme and contains explicit intimate passages. It swerves from the mainstream pretty far in terms of acceptable "relationships" and behavior [to say the least] (See above passage from inside cover for a foreshadow of relationship that is unacceptable in mainstream). If you're not interested in this type of storyline avoid this book because its very prevalent/hard to skip over.
Original and intreging look at a possible post-apocalytic society in a mysterious and strange city.
This book is similar to the new TV series Jericho.It is a 4 time Nebula award winner.