A Fine Vintage: JR by William Gaddis

on Friday, July 16, 2010
I struggle to understand the American literary world at the best of times, but their idiocy seems to have reached a peak in 1976. Just when I thought Bellow's twin accolades verged on the ridiculous I had another think coming with this monstrously weighty tome. In JR, William Gaddis elevated verbal diarrhoea to the level of art. Mind numbing, self-indulgent art. Yep, Gaddis splattered his inky guts on the faces of the gullible American literati and not only got away with it but was given the National Book Award for his efforts. The guff on the back calls JR 'the American Ulysses', but frankly this impenetrable stream of verbiage makes Joyce's masterpiece look like... well... a walk around the block.

One hundred pages in I had no idea what was going on. Something about a wannabe writer. Two hundred pages later, I still had no idea. Something about some dodgy corporate stock dealings. At page five hundred I began to suspect the book was one big practical joke because, you guessed it, I still didn't have the slightest clue what was happening. Oh, right, there was some massive conglomerate flogging ridiculous concepts and products like ads for pharmaceutical companies in kids' school books or funeral plan booths at nursing homes. Tres droll.

Scanning the back cover I was told that this great tour de fraud is about an eleven year old kid who single handedly skewers the American dream. Sure, but I didn't really see that in the book itself. Seven hundred and twenty one pages of almost unbroken dialogue and I never really got a feel for what this thing was about. And before you say I just didn't get it, I did. I'm just calling shenanigans on it. There is nothing heretical in suggesting that people in 1976 either could not see past their LSD-induced hazes or were too scared to admit this was a monkey puking on a typewriter. It wasn't all for nought, though. As I waded ever deeper into this swamp of white noise I realised its only purpose, insofar as I was concerned, was practising my speed reading skills. I hit one hundred and forty pages an hour, a personal best by some thirty odd pages. Go me.


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