This will be the first in what may prove to be several installments on this tome by William Gaddis. Yes, it’s 954 pages (Penguin edition). Yes, it’s astounding. I urge you to put aside all else and read this novel.
Another author’s first rule on writing is to ‘Never open a book with weather.’ While it seems there is no place for surgical instructions in creation (especially commandments beginning with Never–three of the ten do), Mr. Gaddis (as so many before him) uses our friend the sun to great effect.
As Wyatt, the protagonist of the novel, stands before the train that will take him away from his widowed father, Reverend Gwyon, the holy man hands his son his dead mother’s two Byzantine hoops of gold. Estranged, they can’t say anything to each other. Gaddis ends the sequence like this:
The sun showed their motionless shadows on the rough wood platform. Then the sun was obscured by a cloud, and the shadows disappeared. When the sun came out again the shadows were gone. p. 60
With Wyatt now living in Paris, Gaddis begins an exemplary paragraph of philological calisthenics (and a brief tour of Munich architecture) with this (the “configuration” is the white Sacré-Coeur Basilica–located on the highest point in the city):
Still, a dull day in the fall, a day which had lost track of the sun and the importunate rendition of minutes and hours the sun dictates, and that configuration of Montmartre stood out in preternatural whiteness, the ceremonial specter of a peak, an abrupt Alp in the wrong direction. p. 68
Finally, as Wyatt now lives married in New York City, Gaddis depicts the city’s change of season:
The lust of summer gone, the sun made its visits shorter and more uncertain, appearing to the city with that discomfited reserve, that sense of duty of the lover who no longer loves. p. 100
Part II – Report from the middle of the book
Part III – No Ending to the book – about the end
Rare TV interview with Gaddis by Malcolm Bradbury (maybe the only one):
The TV interview is 30 minutes. The full one hour interview is on streaming audio here.
9 thoughts on “The Sun is Your Friend (Read The Recognitions)”
Ach, William Gaddis — easily one of the most underrated (what with Pynchon and DeLillo and so forth hogging all the fame) but sprawling and prolific writers of the 20th century. I’ve read “A Frolic of His Own,” but regrettably haven’t read any more Gaddis since. I think it is time to change that. Although it’s been my hope to read “J.R.” before “The Recognitions.” Is this a wise course?
I don’t know Matt. I’m only a few hundred pages into him. You could go for progression but maybe that is doesn’t make a difference. I’ve heard J.R. more difficult because it is dialogue. Can anyone help out here?
What did you think of “A Frolic of His Own?” I saw a hardcover at the Strand but stopped myself.
I liked “A Frolic of His Own.” Definitely recommended. It’s also only dialogue. Very unusual and, though it’s been a while, I remember it had several very amusing legal cases defining its narrative, one involving the main character, a college history professor, who writes a turgid, high-minded Civil War play only to see the director he pitched it to turn it into, he claimed, a big budget hollywood farce, totally removed from anything of his original intent and substance (raising questions of ownership just by that fact in and of itself).
I was surprised by how easy, despite the lack of explicit distinction, it gradually became to tell who was who, because the different natures of the characters began to stand on their own. I thought Gaddis was very deft in that way.
I’m reading The Recognitions right now, and really loving it. It’s kind of interesting to me how this book is often portrayed as a “difficult” novel (it was after all the book that caused this particular ruckus: http://adilegian.com/FranzenGaddis.htm). I’m about half-way through it, and maybe by the time I’m done I’ll think differently, but so far it seems pretty straightforward as a novel (particularly compared with, say, Pynchon or Barth). The only thing “difficult” about it, really, seems to be the length itself (which isn’t really difficult, just time-consuming…)
Yeah Tadd, not difficult at all. If Franzen thought this was difficult maybe he should try Finnegan’s Wake.
Maybe it has been labeled difficult because things simmer to the surface, there aren’t the regular ‘payoff’ novel moments and characterizations. It builds wonderfully, a master plan.