On the occasion of William H. Gass’s birthday, I’ve cherry-picked sentences from all of his books: a publishing career spanning five decades. This was no easy task, since his fictions and essays and interviews are troves of meticulously rendered, seemingly sculpted, sentences, each one a delight to the eye, music to the ear. I’ve chosen ninety-two in honor of his birthday, but I could easily have chosen a hundred more. Thanks, Magister Gass!
Snow: Kubrick style
Having just reread William Gass’s “The Pedersen Kid” yesterday morning, I decided to do a study of associations–what my brain does as I read, what I think of, what I take away–though right there I sally and this Heraclitus quote, used as an epigraph in W.S. Merwin’s The Lice, drips back into my consciousness:
All men are deceived by the appearances of things, even Homer himself, who was the wisest man in Greece; for he was deceived by boys catching lice: they said to him, “What we have caught and what we have killed we have left behind, but what has escaped us we bring with us.”
Is this nugget saying that which we can’t understand stays with us? Maybe. But more and more I take with me what is mysterious. The trove of Wallace Stevens poems that I’ve examined recently has somewhat sunk into me as what I write now leaks his influence. But really the conglomerate of Gass/Gaddis/Rilke/Stevens via John Madera has been instrumental in boosting the language quotient and destroying a quasi-plain style I took on after a few months with Lydia Davis. So lines or formations like, “She wouldn’t let him do what he wanted to do and this frustrated him,” become “There is a way you carry yourself, he said, quickly breaking off because evening drew on, evening and everything evening measures. Our pace, the space between canyons, this leaf living in the book on the chair.”
Check out “Let Me Make a Snowman: John Gardner, William Gass, and “The Pedersen Kid,'” an essay by Nick Ripatrazone that gives Gass’s famed novella a highly-scrutinized treatment and incorporates Gass and Gardner’s differing approaches to the understanding and writing of fiction. An excerpt:
“The Pedersen Kid” is the genesis of William H. Gass’s canon. Composed in 1951, the novella was not published until 1961, and then only “generously” by John Gardner “in his magazine, MSS.” In the interim, Gass was first published in Accent in 1958, and crafted several other stories that would comprise his seminal collection, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. “The Pedersen Kid” predates his doctoral thesis, his multiple novels, his myriad philosophical and critical writings. It also condenses—and reflects—his nearly thirty-year critical and creative dialogue with Gardner, a literary discourse central to the friction between meta- and traditional fictions within the second half of the twentieth century. The novella is a microcosm of Gass’s aesthetic: his fiction is recursive and wound, taut along lines both linear and achronological, and any examination of his contribution to American letters must consider seeds sown in this odd tale about Swedish-Americans, death, and, most importantly, snow.