George Hunka explores the satiric impulse underlying the work of the twentieth-century writer
william-gaddis
William Gaddis

That William Gaddis was first and foremost a satirist is suggested by Stephen Moore in his monograph on the novelist. “The Recognitions [1955] pioneered (among other things) the black humor of the 1950s and 1960s and the Menippean satire of the 1970s,” he writes. Moore also cites critic John Aldridge’s opinion:

… the novel of fabulation and Black Humor — of which The Recognitions was later to be identified as a distinguished pioneering example — had not yet come into vogue [in 1955]. […] [Critics’] work over the past 20 years has created a context in which it is possible to recognize Gaddis’s novel as having helped inaugurate a whole new movement in American fiction.

Any given novel may cut across genetic categories of tragedy, comedy, satire, romance, and others, and indeed Gaddis’s novels also do so. But it can also be said that there may be one primary genetic impulse to the creation of a given fiction, and for Moore, Aldridge, and the critics that Aldridge cites, it seems clearly to be the satiric impulse that drives Gaddis’s work. It is something of a mystery, then, that for all the secondary critical literature that Gaddis’s novels have produced in the years since the writer’s death, most concentrate on the novels’ narrative innovations, structural and linguistic challenges, and influence on “postmodern fiction” rather than their place in the American satire and black humor traditions from 1955 to 1975 and after. (more…)

George Hunka reflects on his reading of Something Happened and Carpenter’s Gothic

joseph-heller-something-happened-first-edition

At breakfast this morning I mentioned Joseph Heller’s 1975 novel Something Happened to my wife. I read it upon its publication and found it as near to a masterpiece as Heller’s first and far more highly regarded novel Catch-22, though after submitting my wife to William Gaddis’s Carpenter’s Gothic a few months ago I didn’t feel the need to recommend yet another unremittingly dour and unrelentingly pessimistic fiction. In his New York Times review, Kurt Vonnegut called it “one of the unhappiest books ever written,” and Carmen Petaccio called it “a punishingly bleak novel” in an appreciation of the book written for the Los Angeles Review of Books two years ago, the 40th anniversary of its publication:

(more…)

Paul Griffiths reviews the volume in the TLS
william-gaddis
William Gaddis

“Another damned thick, square book.” It is easy to imagine William Gaddis responding thus to the publication of his letters, quoting, as he regularly did in connection with his novels, a remark thrown at Edward Gibbon by a royal duke of the time. One can also guess that such a comment would not in this case have been a cover, as surely it was with his fictional works, for pride in achievement. Gaddis worked for seven years on his first novel, the thousand-page page-turner The Recognitions, which appeared in 1955, when he was thirty-two, and another two decades passed before he published his second, JR, a narrative almost as long, and unbroken. A believer in the “P. E.” (Protestant Ethic), he knew very well what these books represented in terms of hours at the typewriter, and what they required, too, not only of imagination and stamina but also of rage. [Read More]

Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

(more…)