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6 March 1986
The Recognitions 
by William Gaddis.
Penguin, 956 pp., £7.95, January 1986, 0 14 007768 5
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by William Gaddis.
Penguin, 726 pp., £7.95, January 1986, 0 14 008039 2
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Carpenter’s Gothic 
by William Gaddis.
Deutsch, 262 pp., £8.95, February 1986, 0 233 97932 8
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... in the 22 chapters of this long novel, like a running gag. In the same way, certain themes or obsessions pop up, in a frivolous or portentous spirit, and they are often relevant to the concerns of WilliamGaddis’s later novels, JR and Carpenter’s Gothic. One of the slighter-seeming themes is the learned American’s scorn for those of his compatriots who know no language but English. If you have ...

Long Live Aporia!

Hal Foster: William Gaddis

24 July 2003
Agapē Agape 
by William Gaddis.
Atlantic, 113 pp., £9.99, January 2003, 1 903809 83 5
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The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings 
by William Gaddis, edited by Joseph Tabbi.
Penguin, 182 pp., $14, October 2002, 0 14 200238 0
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... Off and on, for over half a century, WilliamGaddis worked on a manuscript about the short life of the player piano in the United States. Over fifty years on an outmoded entertainment? There is more here than meets the eye: ‘Agapē Agape is a ...

So sue me

Michael Wood

12 May 1994
A Frolic of His Own 
by William Gaddis.
Viking, 529 pp., £16, June 1994, 0 670 85553 7
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... every ten or twenty years as garrulous, or of a person who produces his fourth novel at the age of 72 as prolific; but we need some such terms if we are to begin to describe the extraordinary work of WilliamGaddis, born 1922, the author of The Recognitions (1955), JR (1975), Carpenter’s Gothic (1985) and now A Frolic of His Own. Everyone talks in these novels, all the time and at length. They don’t ...

Beware Biographers

Jackson Lears: Kennan and Containment

24 May 2012
George Kennan: An American Life 
by John Lewis Gaddis.
Penguin, 784 pp., £30, December 2011, 978 1 59420 312 1
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Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War 
by Frank Costigliola.
Princeton, 533 pp., £24.95, January 2012, 978 0 691 12129 1
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... death in 2005, at the age of 101, he had become a professional wise man: institutes and libraries were named after him and he was the recipient of mandatory encomia on official occasions. John Lewis Gaddis’s biography is a tombstone-sized tribute, based on unlimited access to its subject and his papers. Not bad for a mid-level policy planner whose most senior diplomatic postings were a brief ...
2 February 1984
The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... legacy. The so-called ‘postmodernists’ Karl promotes aren’t ‘ingenious borrowers of European forms’ but sterile imitators of those forms. To argue that Donald Barthelme, Ronald Sukenick, WilliamGaddis and company belong to some contemporary American avant-garde is to rationalise the fact that they have no audience. Karl cites as instances of writers misunderstood in their day the case of ...

What the Public Most Wants to See

Christopher Tayler: Rick Moody

23 February 2006
The Diviners 
by Rick Moody.
Faber, 567 pp., £12.99, January 2006, 0 571 22946 8
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... for a workable compromise between suburban realism and what Gore Vidal once called the ‘Research and Development’ arm of American fiction – the tradition of Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, WilliamGaddis and Don DeLillo. That might not sound hard if you think of R&D as a matter of surface effects: pop-cultural references, metafictional gestures, glazed irony and so on. But for Moody (b.1961 ...
21 October 1993
The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations and Provocations 
by John Lewis Gaddis.
Oxford, 301 pp., £19.50, July 1992, 0 19 505201 3
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Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 1953-71 
by Douglas Brinkley.
Yale, 429 pp., £22, February 1993, 0 300 04773 8
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The Quest for Stability: Problems of West European Security 1918-1957 
edited by Rolf Ahmann, A.M. Birke and Michael Howard.
Oxford, 546 pp., £50, June 1993, 0 19 920503 5
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... war either. This point deserves to be made so that we can give credit to the leaders who, often in the face of intense criticism, adhered to policies that brought us safely through. Yet John Lewis Gaddis’s book prompts the thought that perhaps the time of the historian is not yet. To be fair, Gaddis makes much of the risks of writing contemporary history, but adds that if historians are not willing ...

Paper or Plastic?

John Sutherland: Richard Powers

10 August 2000
by Richard Powers.
Heinemann, 355 pp., £15.99, March 2000, 0 434 00862 1
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... to play safe (there are no novelists selected this year). Its relatively few awards have been made to older and tried hands: proven winners. As a cohort, novelists are MacArthur’s senior citizens. WilliamGaddis (1982) was awarded a fellowship at the age of 60, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1984) at 57, Susan Sontag (1990) at 59, Ernest J. Gaines (1993) at 60. Thomas Pynchon was a relatively young 51 when he ...

Comedy is murder

Thomas Powers: Joseph Heller

8 March 2012
Just One Catch: The Passionate Life of Joseph Heller 
by Tracy Daugherty.
Robson, 548 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 1 84954 172 5
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Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller was Dad and Life was a Catch-22 
by Erica Heller.
Vintage, 272 pp., £8.99, October 2011, 978 0 09 957008 0
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... of Arts and Letters. ‘It’s an organisation,’ Puzo said, ‘for guys who can’t get screen deals.’ Barring Vogel, the core members all got screen deals. They hesitated to invite the novelist WilliamGaddis because none of them could get through his mammoth novels. They relented, Friedman tells us in his memoir, Lucky Bruce, when Heller’s one-time agent, Candida Donadio, said not to worry – ...

How so very dear

Joshua Cohen: Ben Marcus

21 June 2012
The Flame Alphabet: A Novel 
by Ben Marcus.
Granta, 289 pp., £16.99, June 2012, 978 1 84708 622 8
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... Born in 1967 in Chicago, Marcus is a writer in an antique mode: the modern. Even those writers of his cohort, such as Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides, who publicly cursed the prophets Gaddis, Barthelme, Barth and Coover, forsaking the structural feints and syntactical feats of the 1960s and 1970s, would be mauled by the millennium, by a bearish market more interested in television and ...

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