He Is After Bigger, More Interesting Game
October 17, 2020 2:39 PM   Subscribe

If they know more about [William] Gaddis, it is perhaps that his books are long and difficult and unwelcoming, and that they are not much read. They may also have some sense that Gaddis wanted it this way, that he held common readers in contempt and meant to scare them off. Except for the part about not being much read, none of this is quite right. So Gaddis may be ripe, after all, for the kind of rediscovery in which his new publishers specialize. From Because God Did Not Relax by Christopher Beha [Harper's] [Trim version]
posted by chavenet (16 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm fairly certain I read The Recognitions and struggled through part of J R, but I remember little about either of them except that J R is basically impossible.

Maybe I'll revisit him one of these days. The whole "novel as a challenging mountain to climb" thing gets less appealing as I get older.
posted by hippybear at 3:00 PM on October 17 [13 favorites]


Counterpoint: A long winter is coming.
posted by gwint at 3:35 PM on October 17 [4 favorites]


Gaddis is my favorite author, because he really got into my blood in college, and I'm always exited to see him get any attention. If you're interested, Carpenter's Gothic is great, and short, and penetrable in a way that JR and The Recognitions aren't so much. That said, JR is the best novel about American capitalism I've ever read, and between that and Robert Caro's Powerbroker it's pretty much all you need to understand how the country works in my opinion. The 80 page party scene in The Recognitions has to be the hardest reading experience I've had, but it's worth it if you can make it out with your sanity. "A Frolic of His Own" is a fantastic satire of the legal system that has more than a little Bleak House in its bones. Really, more folks should read the man. I have one of the best library systems in the country and they don't have any of his books in circulation, and that's a tragedy.
posted by hilberseimer at 4:09 PM on October 17 [15 favorites]


Whenever a Joyce thread comes up I never allow myself to comment because I always assume that all the people who claim to love Ulysses or even Finnegan's Wake are delusional.

But here is my comeuppance. I find The Recognitions hilarious and thought it was a page turner. Different strokes for different folks I guess.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:16 PM on October 17 [6 favorites]


So...time & perspective has not resulted in Gaddis re-classified as ‘#toxic’ as so many others from that time period?
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 4:55 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


Gaddis re-classified as ‘#toxic
Are you alluding to anything in particular?
posted by neroli at 5:15 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


I'm with Hippybear, I once climbed mountains like The Recognitions, but i no longer want to be faced with long passages in Hungarian that are just there "for effect'.

Interesting aside: I've used the pseudonym Otto Pivner for decades as a sockpuppet email or throwaway user name and have never had anyone recognize its origin.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:22 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


Are you alluding to anything in particular?

I thought someone might ask me that, but, no. It just does to that seem many (white, male) authors from around that same time period are now seen as troubling.

I have always aspired to try 'JR' and 'The Recognitions' but never got around to these.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 5:36 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


I tried to read JR during the LA Review of Books OccupyGaddis group read 'event'. It was a good way to structure such a project, with moral support, and specific page count assignments, but I definitely bounced all the way off it, maybe 10% of the way in if I remember right. Curious to try Carpenter's Gothic or anything a bit more accessible.
posted by latkes at 7:15 PM on October 17 [1 favorite]


JR is fantastic, that's all I've got to say. Maybe I'm just primed for it but I've read it four times and each time, I couldn't put it down. I understood that it was a difficult book but not so for me. I'm very interested in the subject.

It comes up when they say, "You wrote here that you like to read. What's your favorite book?" Right after Milton the Early Riser. It holds the same place in my heart as the Harry Potter or LOTR books do for many people.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:18 PM on October 17 [1 favorite]


The audiobook of JR cuts through the unnamed speakers pretense and let's the humor come to light. Amazing narration by Nick Sullivan of the dozens and dozens of characters.
posted by Theiform at 10:01 PM on October 17 [5 favorites]


...and just like that, my reading list is replenished! Thanks, MeFi!
posted by spacewrench at 8:02 AM on October 18 [1 favorite]


That said, JR is the best novel about American capitalism I've ever read, and between that and Robert Caro's Powerbroker it's pretty much all you need to understand how the country works in my opinion.

I'm pretty sure at least one book by Not a White Dude might shine lights on other corners of America.
posted by dame at 12:09 PM on October 18 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure at least one book by Not a White Dude...

Well, help me out here! The book I was motivated to check out from reading the Beha article was The Dud Avocado, which is by Not A White Dude. I mean, I'm sure the Gaddis book is fine, but I'm trying to read Less White Dudes. What do you recommend for "how the country works" and "not a White Dude"?
posted by spacewrench at 7:01 PM on October 18 [2 favorites]


I've read some or all of J R and The Recognitions, and they're both books I'd like to read again. It was about 20 years ago so the details have gotten somewhat hazy -- and my inability to remember much about them shouldn't really be held against either book -- but I definitely remember the humor. The other things I've retained are

From The Recognitions, I developed a sense that New York City in the early 50s was probably an amazing place to live (at least if you were an upper-middle-class white man with an appreciation for the arts).

For J R, I've heard the eponymous protagonist described a number of times as a "genius" but my takeaway was that he was anything but -- that his success, such as it was, was a result of chutzpah and amorality (and an obvious precociousness given his age) but not any other special abilities. Appropriate, really, for a novel about capitalism.
posted by Slothrup at 7:32 PM on October 18 [1 favorite]



William Gaddis’s Disorderly Inferno
by Joy Williams in The Paris Review
posted by chavenet at 9:18 AM on October 19


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