William Gaddis, c/d?

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
I just started "The Recognitions," (like really, just started, I'm like 50 pages in) and it's incredible so far. But a couple of years ago I tried to read "A Frolic of His Own," and just couldn't get any enjoyment out of it. I actually stopped reading it within 50 pages of the end because I just didn't want to read it anymore. I could see how it was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't. There seems to be a consensus that "The Recognitions" is "different" from the rest of his books (I remember a Franzen article in The New Yorker to this effect and I've seen it other places as well). Is this true? How is it different? Just based on what I've read of Gaddis, it seems to be less dialogue-focused, more narrative. I've also heard generally good things about "J.R.," is it worth it?

n/a (Nick A.), Thursday, 6 October 2005 13:55 (eighteen years ago) link


n/a (Nick A.), Thursday, 6 October 2005 14:02 (eighteen years ago) link

Oh. Um, well, I've only read "A Frolic of His Own" and it was as you describe. I did grit my teeth and make it to the end, though, but it wasn't worth it. And so that means I have nothing to add to your thread.

Casuistry (Chris P), Thursday, 6 October 2005 15:32 (eighteen years ago) link

Maybe you should read "The Recognitions" too, and this thread wouldn't be so lonely.

n/a (Nick A.), Thursday, 6 October 2005 15:44 (eighteen years ago) link

That's the classic I Love Books conundrum- "everybody seems to be reading all these books except the ones I'm reading!"

k/l (Ken L), Thursday, 6 October 2005 16:42 (eighteen years ago) link

I suspect life is too short to read "The Recognitions". But who knows?

Casuistry (Chris P), Thursday, 6 October 2005 16:44 (eighteen years ago) link

So far it's a much easier and MUCH more rewarding read than "A Frolic of His Own."

n/a (Nick A.), Thursday, 6 October 2005 17:28 (eighteen years ago) link

i read about 150pp of it a few weeks ago. it's beautifully written, but it didn't hold my attention.

lauren (laurenp), Thursday, 6 October 2005 17:43 (eighteen years ago) link

I've been rereading and loving JR. Yeah, Recognitions is the one I never made it through out of the Gaddis I picked up, probably coz I was going through an "experimental" phase in my reading and Recognitions require the most trad-novel prowess and interest, which I lacked at the time. His latter-day style (whcih is all boox except Recognitions) is really fantastic though if you let it wash over you for 40 odd pages until the characters etc. start to resolve into actual plots and ppl. you recognize. then he's disturbingly funny.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Thursday, 6 October 2005 18:38 (eighteen years ago) link

what Lauren said (except i only read about 80 pages).

jed_ (jed), Thursday, 6 October 2005 19:52 (eighteen years ago) link

i leant my recognitions to someone who i am never going to get it back from. and it was a weird library-bound copy of the current penguin edition that fred solinger gave me! so now i keep going to the bookstore and contemplating buying a new copy, which is dumb since i had yet to get farther than 50 pages in and have no real justification for thinking that if i were to own it immediately i would actually have time or gumption to read it.

Josh (Josh), Thursday, 6 October 2005 21:08 (eighteen years ago) link

Each of hiis book is a drop in quality from the one before. The Recognitions is a masterpiece, JR close (and very funny). Carpenter's Gothic is smaller, darker, more controlled, and very good. Frolic is Gaddis lite -- all his favorite themes and styles in a more digestable, less interesting form. For fans only. And Agape Agape seemed like a triffle. Beckett lite. But. boy, the first two are amazing.

Chuck B, Friday, 7 October 2005 14:21 (eighteen years ago) link

I also read his book of essays which was totally fascinating b/c his personal biography (writing copy for prototypical circa-1950s industrial education pamphlets and films for large industrial combines) makes his style so much more understandable. Also, he's occasionally v. funny.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 7 October 2005 16:35 (eighteen years ago) link

"Recognitions is the one I never made it through out of the Gaddis I picked up, probably coz I was going through an "experimental" phase in my reading and Recognitions require the most trad-novel prowess and interest"

this is totally where I got with it. It's weird bcz I flicked through a couple critical things acclaiming it as a precursor of Pynchon etc and so the version I'd constructed in my head was so at odds the one I was reading seemed like Dickens or something.

tom west (thomp), Friday, 7 October 2005 17:03 (eighteen years ago) link


i thought the bit with the sacrifice was awesome, mind.

tom west (thomp), Friday, 7 October 2005 17:03 (eighteen years ago) link

I have not made the leap into RECOGNITIONS yet but I recommend A CARPENTERS GOTHIC.

I think GOTHIC is a good place to start with Gaddis because you can get a feel for his prose style (mostly all dialogue) and the book is a much more reasonable length.

(ALSO: I just have to comment on the fact this book has one of the most eloquently described BJ's in all of literature.)

Mikhail, Friday, 7 October 2005 20:27 (eighteen years ago) link

So far The Recognitions is mostly narrative!

n/a (Nick A.), Friday, 7 October 2005 20:39 (eighteen years ago) link

there's a big switch around page 120 where it goes (almost) all dialogue. i never made it that far though.

a question about that though: TR is his first book so did he find his "voice" (i.e. the focus on dialogue) about 1/10th of the way into the book and not look back from then on? if that's the case is it not strange that he didn't go back and revise the first part of the book (which contains almost no dialogue)? or does the switch happen for plot reasons or some other factor? i may go back to this book at some point.

jed_ (jed), Friday, 7 October 2005 22:49 (eighteen years ago) link

nine months pass...
I'm about 120 pages into JR and wow, I am floored. Every page is so rich with observation, humor, great dialogue - it's such a funny, astute portrait of a moment in time probably much more similar to ours than to thirty years earlier. Its "difficult" nature only makes it that much more engaging to read, because I want to struggle to get every joke and aside and understand every subplot.

A-ron Hubbard (Hurting), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 20:16 (seventeen years ago) link

i've been surprised at how engaging it is. it's only "difficult" when one has to put it down and pick it up again - which has been quite often this week, admittedly, i might put it down til the weekend.

not sure about his plight-of-the-artistisms, or his america-and-money stuff: i dunno, it's the same vein of (ironically?) overdetermined, uh, symbolism that annoys me in DFW ... since someone revived a thing to talk about him ... "look look j r is alberich" = "look look they are eating roses" ...

i really like that at one point someone reads something in a greek alphabet, and follows it by noting they'll have to get the translators in: but what they read is actually english words written in the greek alphabet ... that's pretty clever.

(i might be wrong there, admittedly)

tom west (thomp), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 20:45 (seventeen years ago) link

The bit where Edward lights Mrs. Joubert's cracker made me laugh really hard, aloud, in a quiet office.

A-ron Hubbard (Hurting), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 20:53 (seventeen years ago) link

In general I think the book is a testament to the benefits of rewarding an audience for paying attention rather than spoonfeeding them.

A-ron Hubbard (Hurting), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 20:54 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm already planning to discuss this book with a couple of friends who agreed to read it at the same time. Maybe I could convince them to just post here and others may join in as well.

A-ron Hubbard (Hurting), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 22:25 (seventeen years ago) link

reading it in sixty page chunks makes it feel a lot like a tv miniseries!!

tom west (thomp), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 22:42 (seventeen years ago) link

I love WG, especially JR. I stopped about 100 pages from the end of Recognitions and I don't feel like I'm missing anything. Though I did read the last few pages and the last scene is terrific. I read Frolic after TR and JR, and I enjoyed it, but if it had been my 1st Gaddis I bet I woulda hated it.

Mr. Que (Mr.Que), Thursday, 3 August 2006 14:25 (seventeen years ago) link


tom west (thomp), Saturday, 5 August 2006 11:01 (seventeen years ago) link

"Citizens Union on Neighborhood Teaching" : (

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 5 August 2006 19:41 (seventeen years ago) link

heavens, jack gibbs is now reading from a manuscript called "something agape" by bast: it is about art, and the player piano -

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 5 August 2006 23:30 (seventeen years ago) link

i don't think i mentioned how terribly prescient jr feels.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Sunday, 6 August 2006 18:28 (seventeen years ago) link

in what sense, might i ask?

tom west (thomp), Sunday, 6 August 2006 19:26 (seventeen years ago) link

Junk Bonds. Penny Stocks. Jonathan Lebed.


Mr. Que (Mr.Que), Monday, 7 August 2006 10:16 (seventeen years ago) link

not just that, but the corporatization of schools, etc. everything feels like it was written as satire at the time and became terribly true.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 11 August 2006 23:06 (seventeen years ago) link

ahhh. fr some reason i thought you meant "prescient" in a more uh literary way - which made no sense to me at all -

the next two - which are the same gimmick, rght? - do they get more or less uh "realistic" - like on occasion i can imagine him ending up writing under milk wood

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 12 August 2006 22:17 (seventeen years ago) link

four years pass...

I've waded through three hundred pages of The Recognitions and now I'm in the weeds. The Otto-Esme stuff – where is this going? I enjoyed the scenes in paris between Wyatt and his girlfriend, and the Wyatt-girlfriend-Otto love triangle.

Gus Van Sotosyn (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 13 December 2010 21:08 (thirteen years ago) link

ha i never finished 'the recognitions' btw

congratulations (n/a), Monday, 13 December 2010 21:58 (thirteen years ago) link

lol I never finished JR either. I hit a point somewhere where I became less and less able to follow who was who and what was going on in each scene, and I kept rereading to that point and not getting past it.

mandatorily joined parties (Hurting 2), Monday, 13 December 2010 22:05 (thirteen years ago) link

Never finished it myself, but if I went back to it I think I'd probably use this resource.

Neue Jesse Schule, Monday, 13 December 2010 22:24 (thirteen years ago) link

i had trouble with the opening of 'the recognitions' and reread it at least a few times—it gained in depth each time. but i haven't gotten further than that. probably partly because i keep starting over.

j., Tuesday, 14 December 2010 02:12 (thirteen years ago) link

Yeah if I kept starting over I'd never finish. I think he is v funny (his sense of humour strikes more of a chord with me than any other door stopping US writer I've read) so I anchor myself to that when turning the pages at bits that don't make much sense.

That resource is really good tho'.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 23 December 2010 10:20 (thirteen years ago) link

Finished JR, but not The Recognitions. Feels like a slightly stiff 1950s American novel in places, a bit conventional - I like having Wyatt around, Otto less interesting. Will finish it one of these days

JR benefits from fast reading for a first read I think, big chunks fairly close together at a decent crack. Tuning in to the style is the tricky part, but immersion also gives you better odds on catching the recurring minor characters or the stuff getting smaller, more confused, worse - entropic descent.

his sense of humour strikes more of a chord with me than any other door stopping US writer I've read

Agree, with bits of Pynchon as an exception. Gaddis amazing at organising social noise, and deadpanning through chaos and madness in a way I really like. I think he was more astute & more right about the stuff of now - capitalism, entropy, art, law etc – than any other post-war Eng Lang novelist (tho' I don't necessarily go to a novel for rightness, so he's not quite my favourite)

portrait of velleity (woof), Thursday, 23 December 2010 10:42 (thirteen years ago) link

Its just as compelling when a novelist is really wrong.

Sitting here and trying to generalise I do like a novelist to have strong convictions but strong doubts too (it shows a mind that has thought deeply enough to have them in the first place); that these should be surprising and unusual and provoke doubt in your own.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 24 December 2010 11:52 (thirteen years ago) link

negative capability, rite

thomp, Friday, 24 December 2010 16:36 (thirteen years ago) link

two years pass...

almost bought 'jr' once for a friend of mine named j.r. but thought better of it after skimming through it.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Tuesday, 23 April 2013 22:16 (eleven years ago) link

I think he was more astute & more right about the stuff of now - capitalism, entropy, art, law etc – than any other post-war Eng Lang novelist
― portrait of velleity (woof), Thursday, 23 December 2010 10:42 (2 years ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

woah wait really??

the bitcoin comic (thomp), Wednesday, 24 April 2013 23:00 (ten years ago) link

well who are the other contenders (taking post-war as in the immediate 10 yr period or so)?

Chuck E was a hero to most (s.clover), Thursday, 25 April 2013 06:22 (ten years ago) link

i remember j.r. being sort of banal on art-under-capitalism. it's possible there were levels of irony and inflection i was missing.

the bitcoin comic (thomp), Thursday, 25 April 2013 17:38 (ten years ago) link

i assumed that was "post-war" as in "since 1945," though, too, not "first book published before 1960."

the bitcoin comic (thomp), Thursday, 25 April 2013 17:38 (ten years ago) link

I have a feeling that if I read any actual essays by him on the subject I'd disagree, but he's such a brilliant skewerer in his novels

huun huurt 2 (Hurting 2), Thursday, 25 April 2013 17:40 (ten years ago) link

(disagree with his views, I mean)

huun huurt 2 (Hurting 2), Thursday, 25 April 2013 17:40 (ten years ago) link

one year passes...

Well fwiw I started Recognitions. The prose is amazing, and it's not as hard to follow as I thought (more narrative and less dialogue than the others), but we'll see how it goes.

Hier Komme Die Warum Jetzt (Hurting 2), Thursday, 12 June 2014 15:25 (nine years ago) link

Great, great book imo.

cwkiii, Thursday, 12 June 2014 15:38 (nine years ago) link

I wish I wasn't so inarticulate when it came to describing any work of art, but I can definitely say that this book is pretty much consistently great from start to finish. Excellent prose throughout, and some of the best *scenes* I've ever read.

cwkiii, Thursday, 12 June 2014 15:44 (nine years ago) link

agree with the above. the early part of the novel is primarily narrative, but once it hits the party scenes there's definitely no lack of dialogue.

no lime tangier, Thursday, 12 June 2014 19:03 (nine years ago) link

nine months pass...


this is great, really opened up J.R..

I need to read this now.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 20 March 2015 22:42 (nine years ago) link

bro would you just kick back with an agatha christie for once

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Saturday, 21 March 2015 05:51 (nine years ago) link

Maybe when I retire.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 21 March 2015 10:18 (nine years ago) link


Where is the Brilliant Friend's Home? (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 21 March 2015 11:50 (nine years ago) link

one year passes...

william gaddis' literature of failure @ bard college 1979


just sayin, Saturday, 1 October 2016 04:47 (seven years ago) link

six months pass...

I just started JR, and obviously the narrative syntax is difficult. Any strategies for fixing, for example, the time or POV for any given passage, or is the ambiguity the entire point?

Bashir-Worf Hypothesis (Leee), Friday, 28 April 2017 02:24 (six years ago) link

Annotations: http://williamgaddis.org/jr/index.shtml

eatandoph (Neue Jesse Schule), Friday, 28 April 2017 08:45 (six years ago) link

I found after a while I had a pretty good handle on who was talking, Gaddis gives each character a pretty strong voice - but then characters will imitate other characters' tics and catchphrases, just to add to the cacophony

With setting (when not provided by the brief snippets of omniscient narration) you just have to figure it out from the dialogue

briscall stool chart (wins), Friday, 28 April 2017 09:39 (six years ago) link

four months pass...

I'm quite enjoying JR (120ish pages left), though a lot of scenes remain opaque -- namely, all the ones that deal with financial jargon. I have to assume that's the case with most readers?

The bit where Edward lights Mrs. Joubert's cracker made me laugh really hard, aloud, in a quiet office.

Took me a while to disentagle this scene with the one between Bast and Rhoda rendered through euphemism.

I'll level one critique against how he characterizes a lot of his women. Either harridans (Eigen's wife, Ann D.) or meek pushovers (Joubert, though Bast is one too). Rhoda's great though.

I'm definitely considering The Recognitions next.

Germ Leee Adolescents (Leee), Friday, 1 September 2017 23:59 (six years ago) link

have been dipping into the rush for second place - a selection of his occasional writings and essays. enjoyable but too early for me to form any sense of time or shape to emerge from the general (perfectly understandable) incoherence.

Fizzles, Saturday, 2 September 2017 18:50 (six years ago) link

also - a bit of an oddity - william gaddis crops up in the ios game/ultima rip lowerlander II, in a gaddis-themed village where you can buy a copy of JR.

Fizzles, Saturday, 2 September 2017 18:52 (six years ago) link

Damn just stayed up well past my bedtime reading the scene around page 635+ is totally engrossing.

Germ Leee Adolescents (Leee), Thursday, 7 September 2017 18:22 (six years ago) link

one year passes...

I'm well into reading The Recognitions now, but the Wyatt scenes (especially with Valentine) are impenetrable. The hyper-allusiveness is so dense that it crowds out the narrative (something I have trouble with Stephen's chapters in Ulysses, too) -- anyone have suggestions on extracting meaning from it?

Otherwise, there are some hilarious scenes outside of those episodes.

A Grape Ape Agape (Leee), Friday, 15 February 2019 19:31 (five years ago) link

For me the biggest hump was the sections with the priest - which, to be honest, I got over by skimming - and after that I got into its groove. At some point I’d like to reread it and bother googling the art and mythical references I don’t get, but I’ll probably read some other Gaddis before I do so

gray say nah to me (wins), Friday, 15 February 2019 19:47 (five years ago) link

Which priest? John Huss or Rev. Gwyon?

I'm referencing Gaddis Annotations a lot but I find that the author gives away a lot of plot details, which I object to from a misplaced literary rockism.

A Grape Ape Agape (Leee), Friday, 15 February 2019 20:11 (five years ago) link

Rev gwyon, the mad rural priest with the bull - I don’t even remember who huss is

gray say nah to me (wins), Friday, 15 February 2019 20:17 (five years ago) link

I don't think I would've known who Huss was if not for the online annotations; he appears only a handful of times, and when he does, I wasn't even able to tell what other characters were present.

A Grape Ape Agape (Leee), Friday, 15 February 2019 22:47 (five years ago) link

three years pass...

J R was great, I’m less enchanted with The R and maybe it suffers from having less formal constraint than J R but there’s plenty to like about it anyway

G. D’Arcy Cheesewright (silby), Saturday, 5 November 2022 00:45 (one year ago) link

i like carpenters gothic the most or a frolic of his own. i liked how carpenter's gothic was told from the point of view of the house. sometimes i wish he would just write -said susan idk once in a while

plax (ico), Saturday, 5 November 2022 00:54 (one year ago) link

"She lives just outside Paris, in a place called Banlieu."

"Mi playa!"

Loved the Recognitions and only kinda liked Frolic.

Oddly I don't have a single memory of Carpenter's Gothic. I guess it is possible that I never read it. Doesn't seem like me not to have ever tried - back in my 20s it was exactly the sort of thing I would have been into. But I really don't remember. Weird.

blissfully unawarewolf (Ye Mad Puffin), Saturday, 5 November 2022 01:02 (one year ago) link

frolic is the funniest one

plax (ico), Saturday, 5 November 2022 01:05 (one year ago) link

Cranky old guy writes cranky old guy, film at eleven

blissfully unawarewolf (Ye Mad Puffin), Tuesday, 8 November 2022 15:09 (one year ago) link

Where do I sign up?

Me and the Major on the Moon (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 8 November 2022 15:40 (one year ago) link

five months pass...

I'm listening to the audiobook of J R now and it's quite a performance by Nick Sullivan.

Chris L, Monday, 1 May 2023 13:42 (eleven months ago) link

Here’s a 2020 article on how it was done if anyone’s interested. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/17/i-cried-actor-120-characters-to-life-jr-william-gaddis-nick-sullivan-audiobook

Chris L, Monday, 8 May 2023 13:19 (eleven months ago) link

You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.