Sunday, May 17, 2015

Steps is a collection of short stories by a Polish-American writer Jerzy Kosinski, released in 1968 by Random House. The work comprises scores of loosely connected vignettes, which explore themes of social control and alienation by depicting scenes rich in erotic and violent motives. Steps won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1969.


Steps was Kosinski's second novel, a follow-up to his successful The Painted Bird released in 1965. It consists of a series of short stories, reminiscences, anecdotes and dialogues, loosely linked to each other or having no connection at all, written in the first person. Samuel Coale described the narrator as "nothing more than a disembodied voice howling in some surrealistic wilderness." The book does not name any characters or places where described situations take place.

The book has been interpreted as being about "a Polish man's difficulties under the harsh Soviet regime at home played against his experiences as a new immigrant to the United States and its bizarre codes of capitalism." The stories reflect upon control, power, domination and alienation, depicting scenes full of brutality or sexually explicit. Steps contains remarkable autobiographical elements and numerous references to World War II.


Despite its commercial failure, especially when compared to The Painted Bird, Steps met with generally positive critics' reviews and eventually won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1969. Canadian critic Hugh Kenner in his review of Steps in The New York Times compared it to the works by Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Franz Kafka.

American novelist David Foster Wallace in 1999 described Steps as a "collection of unbelievably creepy little allegorical tableaux done in a terse elegant voice that's like nothing else anywhere ever." "Only Kafka's fragments get anywhere close to where Kosinski goes in this book, which is better than everything else he ever did combined", he praised.

In 1975, a freelance writer Chuck Ross, in order to prove his theory that unknown authors always find their books rejected, sent out excerpts from Steps to four different publishers, using the pseudonym Erik Demos. All four did not accept the sample. In 1977, Ross sent out the entire book to ten publishers, including Random House, which had originally published the book, and thirteen literary agents. Again, the book was rejected, also by Random House, having not been recognized, despite being an award-winning work.


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