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J R is the long-awaited novel from William Gaddis, author of The Recognitions, that tremendous book which, in the twenty years since its publication, has come to be acknowledged as an American masterpiece. And J R is a book of comparable magnitude, substance, and humor--a rushing, raucous look at money and its influence, at love and its absence, at success and its failures, in the magnificently orchestrated circus of all its larger- and smaller-than-life characters; a frantic, forlorn comedy about who uses -- and misuses -- whom.

At the center: J R, ambitious sixth-grader in torn sneakers, bred on the challenge of "free enterprise" and fired by heady mail-order promises of "success." His teachers would rather be elsewhere, his principal doubles as a bank president, his Long Island classroom mirrors the world he sees around him -- a world of public relations and private betrayals where everything (and everyone) wears a price tag, a world of "deals" where honesty is no substitute for experience, and the letter of the law flouts its spirit at every turn. Operating from the remote anonymity of phone booths and the local post office, with beachheads in a seedy New York cafeteria and a catastrophic, carton-crammed tenement on East 96th Street, J R parlays a deal for thousands of surplus Navy picnic forks through penny stock flyers and a distant textile-mill bankruptcy into a nationwide, hydra-headed "family of companies."

The J R Corp and its Boss engulf brokers, lawyers, Congressmen, disaffected school teachers and disenfranchised Indians, drunks, divorcées, second-hand generals, and a fledgling composer hopelessly entangled in a nightmare marriage of business and the arts. Their bullish ventures -- shaky mineral claims and gas leases, cost-plus defense contracts, a string of nursing homes cum funeral parlors, a formula for frozen music -- burgeon into a paper empire ranging from timber to textiles, from matchbooks to (legalized) marijuana, from prostheses to publishing, inadvertently crushing hopes, careers, an entire town, on a collision course with the bigger world . . . the pragmatic Real World where the business of America is business, where the stock market exists as a convenience, and the tax laws make some people more equal than others . . . the world that makes the rules because it plays to win, and plays for keeps.

Absurdly logical, mercilessly real, gathering its own tumultuous momentum for the ultimate brush with commodity trading when the drop in pork belly futures masks the crumbling of our own, J R captures the reader in the cacophony of voices that revolves around this young captive of his own myths -- voices that dominate the book, talking to each other, at each other, into phones, on intercoms, from TV screens and radios -- a vast mosaic of sound that sweeps the reader into the relentless "real time" of spoken words in a way unprecedented in modern fiction. The disturbing clarity with which this finished writer captures the ways in which we deal, dissemble, stumble through our words -- through our lives -- while the real plans are being made elsewhere makes J R the extraordinary novel that it is.

--From the first-edition dustjacket

752 pages, Paperback

First published October 12, 1975

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About the author

William Gaddis

15 books743 followers
William Gaddis was the author of five novels. He was born in New York December 29, 1922. The circumstances why he left Harvard in his senior year are mysterious. He worked for The New Yorker for a spell in the 1950s, and absorbed experiences at the bohemian parties and happenings, to be later used as material in The Recognitions. Travel provided further resources of experience in Mexico, in Costa Rica, in Spain and Africa and, perhaps strangest to imagine of him, he was employed for a few years in public relations for a pharmaceutical corporation.

The number of printed interviews with Gaddis can be counted on one hand: he wondered why anyone should expect an author to be at all interesting, after having very likely projected the best of themselves in their work. He has been frequently compared with Joyce, Nabokov, and especially Pynchon.

Gaddis’s first novel, The Recognitions (1955) is a 956-page saga of forgery, pretension, and desires misguided and inexpressible. Critical response to the book ranged from cool to hostile, but in most cases (as Jack Green took pains to show in his book of rebuke, Fire the Bastards!). Reviewers were ill-prepared to deal with the challenge, and evidently many who began to read The Recognitions did not finish. The novel’s sometimes great leaps in time and location and the breadth and arcane pedigree of allusions are, it turns out, fairly mild complications for the reader when compared with what would become the writer’s trademark: the unrestrained confusion of detached and fragmentary dialogue.

Gaddis’s second book, JR (1975) won the National Book Award. It was only a 726 pages long driven by dialogue. The chaos of the unceasing deluge of talk of JR drove critics to declare the text “unreadable”. Reading Gaddis is by no means easy, but it is a more lacerating and artfully sustained attack on capitalism than JR, and The Recognitions.

Carpenter's Gothic (1985) offered a shorter and more accessible picture of Gaddis's sardonic worldview. The continual litigation that was a theme in that book becomes the central theme and plot device in A Frolic of His Own (1994)—which earned him his second National Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. There are even two Japanese cars called the Isuyu and the Sosumi.

His final work was the novella Agapē Agape which was published in 2002. Gaddis died at home in East Hampton, New York, of prostate cancer on December 16th, 1998.

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Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,380 reviews12k followers
August 31, 2020

This 700+ page novel by William Gaddis (1922-1998) is a splendid work of literature. And in case you’re wondering about the title, JR is the name of one of the main characters, a grungy 12-year old boy who happens to be a financial genius working his money-magic from a public telephone booth in a hallway at his school. An alternate meaning of the two huge letters on the book’s cover could be ‘Jabbering Ruck’, since the novel is mostly dialogue and, make no mistake, every single person – down-on-their-luck men, flower-loving women, corporate business-types, school administrators, ticket takers, school kids, old ladies – do not possess the patience or capacity to hear one another out. Nearly every sentence in the entire novel is cut off before the sentence is completed. And, equally telling about American culture, everybody stops talking mid-sentence to answer the phone. Interruption as a mode of communication.

There is a quote cited in the middle of the novel: ‘That a work of art has a beginning, middle and end, life is all middle.’ Curiously, from the very first page to the last page, I had the distinct feeling I was in the middle of Gaddis’s novel, and for good reason: there are no chapter breaks nor scene demarcations, the dialogue has no character attributions, that is, there are no he said, she said, Tom said, Amy said. Dialogue and descriptions, action and interruptions, connections and misconnection, intimacies and alienation are part of one unending literary gush – novel reading as three weeks of ultimate extreme rafting down white water rapids. Do they pass out awards for finishing JR? They should.

And, man o’ man, what a novel: grand in scope, sweeping social commentary, satire, dark humor (yes, be prepared to laugh-out-loud a few times on every page) as Gaddis writes about multiple aspects of the American dream and American nightmare and everything in between – business, commerce, education,, government, sex, love, marriage, divorce, vision, literature, art, music, to name just a dozen – and with some of the most memorable characters you will ever encounter. However, I can see where Jonathan Franzen and other literary types judge JR a difficult book. But, from my own experience, once you follow Gaddis’s pace and rhythm, the language is quite engaging and not at all overwhelming. Here is a snatch of dialogue where an old aunt explains some family history to a visiting lawyer:

“Well, Father was just sixteen years old. As I say, Ira Cobb owned him some money. It was for work that Father had done, probably repairing some farm machinery. Father was always good with his hands. And then this problem came up over money, instead of paying Father Ira gave him an old violin and he took it down to the barn to try to learn to play it. Well his father heard it and went right down, and broke the violin over Father’s head. We were a Quaker family, after all, where you just didn’t do things that didn’t pay.”

How about that for insight into the culture? A young boy wants to play violin instead of fixing farm machinery or dealing in money. Well, whack! . . . take that kid. Get back to work so you can hand me some money! Bulls-eye, Mr. Gaddis. And heaven help those adults who don't grow out of wanting to play music or paint pictures or write books. Darn. . . why don't they really grow up and get a real job and do something useful so they can make some serious money?

One of my favorite characters is Whiteback, the school principal, who speaks pure Buffoon-ese. My guess is Gaddiss had great fun including Whiteback. I love the fact Whiteback displays his Horatio Alger award and 56 honorary degrees on his wall. 56! Here is Whiteback meeting with Dan, one of the school testers, and a Major Hyde, a corporate-military type pushing his company’s agenda on the school. At one point in the conversation, Whiteback pontificates on the justification of monies being given his school for standardized testing:

“Right, Dan, the norm in each case supporting or we might say being supported, substantiated that is to say, by an overall norm, so that in other words in terms of the testing the norm comes out as the norm, or we have no norm to test against, right? So that presented in these terms the equipment can be shown to justify itself in budgetary terms that is to say, would you agree, Major?
--- I’ll say one thing Dan, if you can present it at the budget meeting the way Whiteback’s just presented it here no one will dare to argue with you . . . “

What a scream. No joke, no one will argue. How do you argue with blustering sophistic double-speak?! Language as an administrate cover-up. Ironically, JR was published during the Watergate era.

In one scene we have Jack Gibbs making his entrance into a ramshackle, crumbling apartment, bottle in hand, to join his buddy. Through Gibbs's rant, Gaddis gives us the myth of the American writer/artist – the surly, gruff, liquor-fueled, poetic, perceptive outsider shooting holes through all the hypocrisy, shallowness, stupidity, self-righteousness and insensitivity of modern American life. It is as if the spirits of Henry Miller, Jackson Pollock, Charles Bukowski and other American tough-guy writers and artists loom over Gibb’s shoulder; matter of fact, one could take the words of Gibb’s rant and easily transpose them into a number of Bukowski-style poems. My sense is Gaddis also sees these looming spirits and knows the downside of the myth. What real freedom is there when one is tied to the scotch bottle and crusty, hard-boiled cynicism? But, then again, perhaps Gaddis detects some keen wisdom in a crusty cynicism, after all, his novel depicts how modern American cultural fuels one-dimensionality and a constriction of choice, where people are forced to live in a world constantly bombarded by noise, tawdriness, commercialism, land destruction, cesspools and intrusive gadgets.

JR is a challenging book, but a book well worth the effort. And, even if they don’t give you an award for finishing, at least you can tell your friends you made it to the end.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,635 followers
December 22, 2021
Society of puppets… Society of puppeteers…
Since you’re not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that?

A mise en scène is school but instead of educating, it is sowing ignorance and cultivating bad taste.
The function of this school is custodial. It’s here to keep these kids off the streets until the girls are big enough to get pregnant and the boys are old enough to go out and hold up a gas station, it’s strictly custodial and the rest is plumbing.

And in this milieu of intellectual vacuum people have no time to live – they just play roles in an endless money soap opera. Money makes everyone move and jerk but it doesn’t make anyone happy. It is slowly sucking out blood, intellect and human souls turning everyone more and more hollow.
Exactly as T.S. Eliot once wrote:
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion…”

JR is The Great Gatsby upgraded to the state of postmodern…
If you want to make a million you don't have to understand money, what you have to understand is people’s fears about money.

The modern society is totally disconnected – everyone talks and no one listens.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
February 5, 2021
Big Business Is For Kids

I grew up just down the road from William Gaddis's home. But I didn't encounter his writing until about thirty years ago, first in his enthralling Recognitions, and then in JR which to me is the most important piece of fiction ever written about business.

JR is a six-grader who builds a business empire from a phone box. He gets to know the tricks of the trade, any trade, by trial and error. Hence he can reveal the real ethos of business as he goes along, without commentary but just the way it is.

Gaddis uses an innovative technique to keep the action going that takes a bit of acclimatisation but is well worth the reader's effort. The centre of narration shifts more or less constantly and without announcement as characters literally brush up against one another. The story is passed on like a sort of secret parcel that one has to watch for continuously. The effect is a literary mimicry of the frenetic but not terribly useful sequence of commercial activities from selling to corporate takeovers. The busyness of business.

Gaddis's point, I think, is the essential puerility of the corporate rat-race. It is a game played by children who, like Donald Trump, may have passed through puberty some time ago. It is a game with fixed rules which make little sense except to the players of the game. It also, alas, is a game that crushes authentic creativity whether in art or other human endeavour.

A dozen years after JR was published, that would be in 1987, someone, possibly Gaddis but I can't confirm it, wrote a supplemental piece entitled JR Goes to Washington. In that piece JR is only an expert witness testifying before a Congressional Committee. Little could any one have dreamed that this bit of slapstick would be a gross understatement of the coming reality of a Trump presidency: http://www.williamgaddis.org/nonficti...
Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,878 followers
September 23, 2010

Trying to make sense of corporate America is like trying to make sense of Beckett. Wait, this was a bad year when you made 5% more than last year which was a good year?----Why are they waiting for some dude who never shows up? Why doesn't he just get out of the pile of pig shit?.

I hate capitalism. I abhor it. I don't have a better idea for how things could run, but I know that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. Corporate America knows there is something fundamentally wrong with it too, that is why they play their game from a socialist standpoint; if the game were truly played fair most of them wouldn't stand a chance of surviving. America would be a vast wasteland of destruction with just a few having won everything. They would be the emperors of a big pile of shit. Hooray for them!

Fortunately laws are in place that let lots of people people rule over their own little piles of shit.

Before I even knew about the whole corporate take-over bullshit with Barnes and Noble I had dreams about the store turning into a fucking supermarket. In my dreams I yell and scream that this is all bullshit, we are a bookstore, not a fucking supermarket, that there is more to the business than just making the most possible money. In my dreams I'm a troublemaker who people get angry at, and then ignore while I throw temper tantrums. Now there is a guy who runs supermarkets trying to buy the company and institute policies more favorable to the shareholders.

Art and making conditions that are fiscally favorable to those greedy idiot children that go buy the name of shareholders do not go hand in hand. Actually, they are antagonistic to one another.

As is seen in JR.


JR is now part of the holy trinity of novels. The father (Gravity's Rainbow), the son (JR), and the holy spirit (Infinite Jest). Feel free to move these around, arguments can be made for any of the books to occupy any of the spaces.

JR is not quite as engaging as Gaddis's first novel The Recognitions, but it's a more cohesive novel. I mentioned in my review for the earlier novel that it felt like it was straddling the line between the moderns and the post-moderns (this is such bullshit really, how is Joyce any less of a post-modernist than most of the pomo authors? High Modernism and post-modernism are the same shit, but whatever this makes sense if you don't over think it (and by this I mean my argument about Gaddis, you need to over think the modernism is post-modernism thing)). The straddling of The Recognitions gave the text an interesting tension. It was almost like Gaddis was afraid to really let go and let the novel go where it wanted to go.

He no longer has that problem in JR. I don't know if it is because writers like Pynchon, Coover and Barth had staked out some of the territory for him, or if he just grew more comfortable, more angry, more something in the twenty years he hid from writing novels in corporate America, but whatever happened he produced a capital em fucking Masterpiece.


A caveat.

While the book is a capital em fucking Masterpiece I do not recommend you read it. Seriously, I'm telling you don't read it, or if you do decide on your own to read it. Don't let anything I say influence you to read it. If you do let anything I say influence you to read it and you hate the book I don't want to hear about it. I'll just tell you I told you so. And then I'll tell you that it is one of the greatest books ever written and that I told you not to read it on my advice.

JR is possibly a 726 page headache. Or it is an oh my fucking god of all literature this is one of the greatest fucking things ever!! type experience. The book is probably about 99.5% dialog (maybe higher actually). NONE of the dialog is attributed to anyone. There is no he said, Stella exclaimed, JR excitedly yelled, Bast resignedly agreed, Jack drunkenly argued. None of that stuff. Just approximately seven hundred some odd pages of people speaking who you need to build the story up out of the context of what they are saying and the brief action/description paragraphs that move characters either temporally or spatially around. If you can give yourself into the author. If you can trust that Mr. Gaddis. knows what he is doing and he isn't going to steer you too wrong then go right ahead and start reading. If you are going to get your asshole in a knot over not always being completely clear about who is speaking to whom or that you need to know everything immediately than this book is not for you. Roland Barthes kooky theory aside, this book shows the author is not dead, the reader is to the author and that giving yourself over to the hands of a very skilled writer, such as William Gaddis, is a transcendent experience. I imagine engaging in a novel like this is about as close as I will ever have to putting myself fully in the hands of a higher power.

BUT! that doesn't mean the book is going to excuse you from having to do some work on your own. You've got to pay attention and read the fucking thing like an intelligent adult and not as a passive consumer. And you have to be the type of reader who can enjoy that an author is creating a cantata of dialog (well it may have been an opera at first, but after a bit it had to be toned down...).


Why we (re)read.

Why does a book like this appeal to me? Why at the midway point in my days (well midway point in a year) do I spend ten days reading a satire on corporate America written in a difficult and slow style? Why did I feel a total rush reading this? Why does reading a book like this get me excited for the possibilities of literature, the intellect, creativity, etc., that a straight forward book just doesn't usually do for me? Why are most, well all, of my absolute favorites all 'difficult' in one way or another? I'm not looking to impress anyone by reading this. If anything I'd recommend most people I know not to read this because I don't think they would have the patience to let the book unfold on it's own terms (this is the condition that I imagine one must have to read Finnegans Wake, I believe Joyce is an able writer (genius) who may make things difficult but not guide one wrong. As opposed to certain 'wits' on this website who believe that it is just gibberish that a computer program could write as satisfying of a read).

I read lots of books that aren't difficult. And some of those books I enjoy a great deal. Some I even award five stars. But they don't usually strike me as books I will want to return to again. For example Kafka's prose isn't the most enjoyable to read, I mean stylistically for me. But he is an author that I can see returning to again and again. His stories have an openness to them that invites re-readings and play, even though they take place in a very confining and formally rigid realm (I'm not just talking about plot setting here). Or why are DFW's long serpentine sentences really a light joy that can be savored? Why doesn't a more straight-forward writer not seem to invite re-readings? Of course this is only for me. For you there are probably a whole different set of characteristics that make you want to cherish one book over another. But can we even really point a finger to what it is in a book that makes one work over another?


In closing. JR is an amazing book and I don't recommend you read it. Or read it but I disavow all responsibility for you reading it and consider yourself warned.
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
June 28, 2018
I love this grubby child persistent child! I feel as if he is someone that I know. Not that any of the large cast of characters gets short shrift in floating opera. But, the reader doesn't miss a scene. It reminded me of reading Robertson Davies and John Dos Passos although darker and less mythical than Davies and more of a micro view than Dos Passos.
—Right. You mention education and they grab for their wallets. Now here’s thirty-two thousand six hundred and seventy for blacktopping the parking lot over to the tv studio.
—That’s the only bid that came in.
—And there’s this twelve thousand dollars item for books.
—That’s supposed to be twelve hundred, the twelve thousand should be paper towels. Besides, there’s already that bequest for the library.
—Did it say books in so many words? No. It’s just a bequest for the library.
—Use it for a pegboard. You need a pegboard in a library. Books you don’t know what you’re getting into.
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,648 followers
June 12, 2019
Completely spectacular, best if read very slowly - it is a novel, a very long novel, told almost exclusively in untagged dialogue. Though at first it is dizzying, the characters (dozens and dozens of them) each have their own speech patterns, and through context, the plot (JR, a boy, becomes very rich) slowly becomes clear.

The level of detail is crazy - JR says "this here __" fairly often, and toward the end of the book, he buys HER magazine (a plot set up for many pages), seemingly just so he can say: "This Her Magazine." I laughed many times, thrilled constantly.

It is very Gaddis, in that it in some ways deserves more acclaim, but it is also very understandable that very few tilt at it. There's a willful difficulty here that takes pride in itself. That can be frustrating, but his obstinance masks his mastery.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
875 reviews2,273 followers
February 16, 2018

Hey You Listening?

--- It's like a darned big brick, isn't it?

--- Um...

--- Monolithic...

--- N...

--- Intimidating...

--- Listen will you, goddammit...

--- Impenetrable...

--- Not at all! No!...It's just like anything else that's marvellous and new...

--- Whaddya mean?

--- It's like me trying to write music. Until a performer hears what I hear and can make other people hear what I hear what the audience hears it's just trash...it's just trash like everything else in this world full of shopping malls...

--- Trash?

--- Yeah...most everything you see around here it's just trash! Who do they think will buy it? It's worthless! This book though...it's like a symphony...you just have to work out how to hear it...

--- Wait a minute buddy I can't take all this in my...you've finished reading the whole book?

--- Right...

--- Well why don't you be the performer...

--- I, um, OK...

--- Just tell me what you heard...

--- I mean like remember this here book he started it that time where they wanted him to write about success and like free enterprise and entering public life and all hey?

--- Um, did it, really...this had better not be boring...

--- So I mean listen he had this neat idea hey, you listening? Hey? You listening?


Dialogical Masquerade

Yes, this novel consists mainly of dialogue, apart from the occasional (and usually beautiful) interstitial bits, some of which I've extracted and tried to poeticise below.

But then, if you were masked (or closed your eyes) the whole time while you experienced a play or a film or a TV show, you might say the same.

The challenge is not to be deterred by the apparent novelty of this narrative device. You have to find your own way into the text, even if it still requires exertion.

If you can do that, it will make sense for you. You won't be distracted by its failure or refusal to comply with literary conventions.

Wings of Desire

My initial interpretive device was what I'll call a Wings of Desire strategy.

Imagine that Marx and Engels die and go to Heaven. God keeps them (I suppose Engels was descended from a family of angels, anyway), because they're good company (even if they might be anti-corporate), until one day in the 70's Marx and Engels ask God if they can listen in on what's happening in capitalist America.

Marx and Engels can only hear the conversation. Occasionally, God supplies some interstitial description.


Another interpretive device is the Eavesdropping strategy.

You have to imagine that the characters are our neighbours, although we never actually get to see them. We can only eavesdrop on their conversations behind the wall.

Gaddis himself has described the novel as "a chaos of disconnections, a blizzard of noise", almost as if it was a blizzard of white noise a la Don De Lillo.

However, it's not really a blizzard. Nothing is incomprehensible. It's sequential and systematic, like a relay race with the baton being passed on from one speaker to the next. The audience/reader just has to keep their eyes on the baton.

This novel isn't chaotic. It's extremely highly and tightly structured. I saw connections in the shape of the strands of a rope. Every strand of the rope strengthens every other strand, thus giving the whole its integrity.

Feeling the Elephant in the Next Room

A variation of the Eavesdropping strategy is to imagine sticking your hands through a hole in the wall in the dark and trying to define what it is you can feel on the other side.

We have to use our imagination. It might be hard to work out what it is, if it's an elephant and we've never seen an elephant before.

But here we have the privilege of knowing that the subject is people living under the conditions of capitalism (albeit in the early 70's, although you'll be surprised how little they have changed).

Infinite Riches in a Little Room

By these strategies, our imaginations can equip us to believe that there are infinite riches in the little room of this novel.

Gaddis' novel helps us to learn about the condition of the middle class in America or the soul of man under capitalism.

However, in order to do so, it doesn't so much focus on what people own (materialism) or do (activism/ pragmatism) or think (idealism). It focusses on what they say (dialogism).

It assumes that we can learn about people well enough by listening to them talk with each other. The stock exchange and money as a means of exchange are vital to the content of the novel. However, what's most important to the form of the novel is the exchange of conversation.

A Glimmer of the Recognitions

Part of the subject matter concerns the attempts of business to get artists to create objects that glorify or aggrandise capitalism or capitalists.

To this extent, the novel continues Gaddis' themes from "The Recognitions".

The focus on conversation also reminded me of that novel's party scenes, where you could imagine the narrative being a camera rolling through the room recording the goings on, but most importantly the dialogue.

The Soft White Underbelly

At a macro level, then, the novel concerns business, money, art, women and men.

At a micro level, it deals with the human aspects of production, management, administration, decision-making, finance, budgeting, pricing, marketing, publicity, advertising, lobbying, trade, exchange, take-overs, insider-trading, fraud, success, failure, insolvency and liquidation.

Gaddis rolls the beast of American capitalism onto its back and observes its soft white underbelly.

Only this isn't dry academic stuff. It's as insightful and humorous as the Marx Brothers take in "A Day at the Races".

We casual browsers and armchair travellers get a pretty good tour through something akin to Walt Disney's Businessworld.

Inherent Vice and Limited Reliability

Ultimately, there is little grandeur on display.

We see plenty of beefy faces and grubby hands. Nothing is what it seems. Limited liability companies become masters of limited reliability. How can we assess the veracity of their promises until we can see the fine print of their promissory notes. For all the claims of business, its disclaimers are what count and discount.

We see less merit and skill than opportunism. The big decision is whether to hedge your risk or hedge your bets. Paradoxically, JR, an 11 year old student who hasn't reached the age of majority, is able to command a majority on the board.

Where there is success in one generation, we witness problems of succession to the next generation. If wealth is lucky enough to transition from Senior to Junior, vice is both inherent and inherited. Conversely, when it comes to debt funding, collateral securities result in collateral damage and insecurity.

Vox Populi or Patrician?

In the long run, Gaddis asks why government, invention, art, industry and religion can't serve all of the people, instead of just the patrician classes.

Over the course of the novel, readers should find that the slow dazzle of conversation is never boring, but instead has accrued interest.

On the other hand, unlike Marx and Engels, Gaddis never stoops to a crude manifesto, nor does he make any predictions.

So, at the end, it's unclear whether capitalism will survive intact or eventually be brought down, and if the latter, whether by revolution or class actions.

Insider Trading Places

It would be enough that the novel is frequently hilarious, if only it wasn't also so true.

Gaddis took 20 years to write this novel, during which time he worked at the highest levels of business and saw what was really going on. He writes with the insight of an insider who has traded places.

He also writes like someone who listens and hears. This is what people talk about. This is how people speak. This is what they say. He's entitled to ask, hey, are we listening? This isn't just trash talk. This is a symphony. We just have to work out how to hear it.

Ultimately, what Gaddis achieves is a magnificent encyclopaedic and panoramic vision of the human aspects of (living under) the capitalist elephant.

His perspective is authoritative, because it's informed by living inside the whale. If that's not too much of a mixed metaphor!

[Interstitial Assemblages]

These assemblages are almost 100% the words of William Gaddis via which I hope to demonstrate the poetry of his prose.

Howl (1975 - 20**)
[In the Words of William Gaddis]

Stressing the vital necessity
Of expanded capital formation
Unimpeded by government restraints,
Senator Broos made
An impassioned plea
For a restoration of faith
On the part of the common man
In the free enterprise system
As the cornerstone...
Of those son of a bitches
Who still think
Winning's what it's all about
Give them a string of high p e ratios
And a rising market
It's all free enterprise
All they howl about's
Government restraints
Double taxation...
All free enterprise
Till they wreck the whole thing
They're the first ones up there
With a tin cup
Whining for the government
To bail them out
With a loan guarantee
So they can do it
All over again.

Flowers in the Mud
[In the Words of William Gaddis]

If there was one flower
Out here in this mud
And weeds and broken toilet seats
You'd find it and step on it
The minute you get
Your hands on something
The power to keep something
Like that going
You couldn't do it
You couldn't even leave it alone
For a few people still looking
For something beautiful
People who'd rather
Hear a symphony
Than eat
Who can still hear
A magnificent
Soprano voice singing.
Ach nein,
When you hear this here
Lady singing up
You can't get
Up to their level
So you drag them
Down to yours
If there's any way
To ruin something
To degrade it
To cheapen it
That's what you'll do.

I Think It's My Pulse
[In the Words of William Gaddis]

And the glow at the wall socket
Took up the loss of day,
Eyed the slow accumulation
Of the night.
The spot of light leaped,
Dropped shrunk close,
Searching white from whites,
Darted, paused,
Came up blinding and was gone,
Leaving the dark confirmed
By the wall socket's glow,
Until it faded
With the rise of day.
Mister Duncan?
Are you awake?
Sun caught on water somewhere
Trembled on the ceiling.
That reflection up there,
Can you see it throbbing?
I think it's my pulse.

Just Like Heaven (Between the Covers)
[In the Words of William Gaddis]

From his her own hand came
measuring down firmness of bone
brushed past its prey
to stroke at distances
to climb back still more slowly
fingertips gone in hollows,
fingers paused weighing shapes
that slipped from their enquiry
before they rose confirming
where already they could not envelop
but simply cling there
fleshing end to end,
until their reach was gone...
hands running to the spill of hair
over her face in the pillow
and down to declivities and down
cleaving where his breath
came suddenly close enough
to find its warmth reflected
tongue to pierce puckered heat
lingering on to depths
coming wide to its promise
rising wide to the streak of its touch
gorging its stabs of entrance
aswim to its passage
rising still further
to threats of its loss
suddenly real
left high agape
to the mere onslaught
of his gaze
knees locked to knees
thrust deep
in that full symmetry
surged back against him
surges his hands
on either side bit deep
as though in their possession
all her eloquent blood
spoke in her cheeks...
until a slow turn to her side
she gave him up
and ran raised lips
on the wet surface of his mouth...
the weight of her leg warm
over his gone rigid
for his twist away
leaving only his back to her
where she kissed his shoulder
in the darkness and
clung as though for warmth
until, as of its own weight,
it eased away,
and she caught breath
at the stealth of springs
across the gap,
the desolate toss of covers
on the bed there and then,
for warmth,
pulled up her own.

Make It Magnificent!


Camp Funtime

Profile Image for J.
730 reviews457 followers
August 7, 2016
Do you find books like Infinite Jest too accessible? Is Gravity's Rainbow too basic for you? Well friends, William Gaddis's J R is the book for you! It's got a slew of amazing features!

** Over 700 pages of almost totally unattributed dialogue!

** Only the smallest specks of narration possible to indicate a change of time or setting!

** No chapters, headings or sections and barely any paragraphs to indicate the formal beginning or end of any action!

Finishing J R, I feel like Frodo Baggins must feel when he finally throws the one ring into the fires of mount doom: utterly used up and exhausted. I'll risk making a bold claim: J R is the single hardest to read novel ever written by an American and likely to be written by one for some time. I don't mean the hardest to comprehend or make sense of, but certainly the hardest to actually sit there and read. In fact, Gaddis isn't a novelist here as much as he is a master ventriloquist, he can make any voice he takes up instantly believable and often times compelling, whether it's the naively scheming, oddly lonely eleven year old at the book's center or any of the several dozen confused, manipulative corporate fat-cats, school administrators, kookie ex-generals and aspiring artists whose endless flow of of conversations, orders, monologues, recriminations, advertisements, and painfully minutely rendered financial jargon compose the main body of the book.

The little actual narration there is is strange, elliptical, and even though this came out in the mid 1970's (remember the last time the national book award was given to the most INSANE book of the year? me either) the prose is so uber-modern that it mops the floor with most other respected post-modern writers. There are no transitions in this book, no real breaks, just sudden grinding shifts through time and location, kind of similar to the perpetual roving camera in Richard Linklater's 'Slackers', but rendered with gorgeous, almost biblical descriptions of phones ringing and trees swaying.

Much like Gaddis's first, even larger novel, The Recognitions, J R is, broadly speaking, concerned with the increasingly commercial nature of our society. Not just of capitalism per se, but of how literally everything, especially art itself, becomes just another form of liquidity. Another thing to buy and sell and wheel and deal with. The sense of disgust and anger that Gaddis feels seems much older and much more primal than any particular ideology or economic philosophy. As the late writer Marshall Berman once wrote, Modernity could easily be described as a state when "all that is solid melts into air." In so far as this book is about the entropic dissolution and recombination of various stocks, bonds, debts, securities, escrows, debentures, foundations, companies, corporations, etc and in so far as the book is told almost entirely in a cacophony of voices which themselves appear, dissolve and then reappear in a state of constant flux and confrontation… J R is more about Modernity itself (maybe not modernism per se) than any novel I have ever read before.

But Gaddis's revulsion with speculation and incorporation run amok comes through as much as a confrontation to the reader as a condemnation of the America he is living in (and his take on America in this book is fare-sighted and frankly even truer to the overwhelming confusion of American life now than it did decades ago, this is the rare book that has only gotten more right with time). Maybe it's because his first massive novel was initially a critical and commercial failure. Most writers would probably either have thrown in the towel, or at least compromised and come up with something more commercially viable.

But Not.William.Gaddis. Instead he built another monster of a book, one that's actually funnier and a bit easier to follow and whose characters are brought into sharper focus than in his first, but which is also vastly more difficult to really work through page by page. With the possible exception of Ulysses, I can't recall another fictional book I've read which demanded such an intense level of focus so consistently over so many hundreds of pages. And just like Ulysses, there are moments in this that makes your eyes glaze over as you try and parse out who is speaking to who about what, and you're not sure if you're reading a book or just being intellectually abused by someone with vastly more erudition and discipline than you will ever have.

And yet, there are moments of dialogue and tiny narrative descriptions so hysterically brilliant, so weirdly nutty that you almost can't believe a human mind came up with them. And you feel somehow privileged to live in a world which will even allow for the creation and dissemination of a novel this utterly, un-apologetically crazed. J.R. is the work of a fierce, and totally uncompromising stylistic master. Highly, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,232 followers
February 22, 2015
”I'd suggest that what J R documents is the way that America is hollowing out the foundation necessary to even read a book like it, an America that teaches its children via closed-circuit television, an America that thinks democracy means owning a share of profit-maximizing publicly traded corporations. This is what it means to say that J R is about the conditions underlying the impossibility of its own reception. If there were a welcoming mass public for books like this, a public able to appreciate its beautiful difficulty and astonishing imagination, we wouldn't live in the sort of world so in need of savage satirical critique in the first place.” -Lee Konstantinou


That quote is probably the best summa I’ve come across concerning J R, it’s from this LARB review that is most certainly worth your time and attention, even if you are unfamiliar with this book or Gaddis:


So what do I think? I believe J R to be a better novel than The Recognitions, though I’m not trying to diminish that book, which I consider a great novel. But where The Recognitions strived toward greatness, strived toward profundity of image and symbolism and meaning, in an astonishing Joycean effort, which it most certainly more often than not attained, J R achieves this almost without seams, without showing its hand, so to speak. It is, from the outset, already at those heights and just rockets, comets, burns away from page one to the crashing end like some kind of apocalypse meteor across the night. It is noisier, more chaotic, uglier than its predecessor, but it is more mature, unified, of itself by itself within itself, a novel created by its own form and subject almost more than by an author. It is a truly unique work of art, more so than Gaddis’s first novel, in this reader’s opinion.

It was so strange to read the majority of this novel in cafes and coffee shops in downtown Washington DC, mostly within sight of the Capitol Building, as I did. The tables would ebb and flow, fill and empty, in tides of suits and clean haircuts, perfect smiles and arms adorned with things signifying wealth, and the noise of these places resembled the noise in J R, broken fragments of conversations reaching my ears, talk talk talk business business business because that is the air in this town, DC is money and business and ladder-climbing and institutionalized classism careerism, DC is built on this swamp see and the swamp never went away, it just got like reverse-reified into this mire of business talk policy talk displays of money subtle bragging power plays this is just how it is, it’s as J R Vansant would say it’s just like what you do. Entire conversations I overheard while reading J R could have been lifted directly from its pages without any alteration. Truly, Gaddis has written in this book what it is like to listen to America talk. The thing of wonder is that it was published forty years ago and written in the twenty years preceding that. Gaddis as Cassandra indeed.

As you probably know, J R is a novel comprised for the most part of unattributed dialogue. Contrasting this, there are transitional interludes, parts that bridge the dialogue and act as a kind of omniscient voice out of time or a bodiless narrator beyond the voices clamoring around, basically serving to note shifts of action and time elapsing, to specify place where it needs specifying, and herein lies some of Gaddis’s most musical, purely beautiful prose. The flow from enjambed, chaotic, manic dialogue, constantly being interrupted, full of holes and dropped clauses, often jarring and disorienting, into these passages of pure lyrical beauty, is a brilliant form for the novel, and it became Gaddis’s mode of choice for the rest of his career. To me it rang utterly true, it created the effect that often happens in life as it is lived, where one moves from the multiphonic cacophony of being in the world, living out there, moving through the world, and that retreat into the moment when you seek refuge inside, within your own thoughts, the thoughts you’ve tended, cared for, watered with literature and poems and songs and memories and dreams and gentle desires. Of course you cannot stay there, one must again emerge into the whirlwind the cacophony because it is out there, in the mess the shit the storm where ‘making our living’ resides. So it is a shattered kind of existence we live out and is drawn here. The physical world of J R is also shattered, broken monuments cracked heaving pavement ruined buildings wastelands moors emerging cluttered with garbage debris graffiti ads traffic etc. etc.

But this is a book mostly about Work, in all the senses of that word. Work, what we do, why we do what we do, what motivates us, makes necessary our ventures, our attempts to build ourselves out in society, what motivates our attempts to be recognized, make ourselves valued and valuable… what does ‘value’ mean?… and what is worth doing? I think this is the main concern of J R- what is worth doing and why the majority of humanity spend their potential, their wealth of energy and talent and time doing things that are, for the most part, not worth doing. Wasted energy. Inertia. Entropy. Clutter. Clatter. Signifying… a surplus of activity a surplus of speech that all seem to come to nothing but are so overflowing with content that their non-content comes to seem like everything, within its own hectic manic emptiness and high stakes game of oblivion logic.

This is a novel about the alienation that Marx analyzed and assessed and made predictions about so long ago that has come to pass and subsume almost all activities, interactions, and relationships in our world. This is a novel about language and interpersonal relationships as commodities. It’s about speech, language- the only medium us poor humans have for understanding ourselves and the world, the only way we can come to any sort of knowledge about being, perception, belief- about speech and language infected by and determined by the drive for money and what Money values. It’s about what Money values and what values there might be left in people weighted with the pursuit of, the life-and-death need of money. It is a novel about Real Life.

So it is a sad novel, utterly bleak. Whether it was hyperbolic satire when it was written I can’t know for sure, but these days it is hardly an exaggeration. So many things in J R that are written to be outrageous are ubiquitous in my world. But still it is perfect, blazing, excoriating satire. Utterly hilarious. With few exceptions, you will laugh on every page.

There’s an apartment that becomes a kind of surrogate headquarters for the J R Family of Companies, a place of ”infinite riches in a little room” (the irony on the second word is dripping) embodying entropy where taps are constantly running hot water spewing energy uselessly and papers and mail and boxes and junk trinkets pile up like all the debris of modern society amassing there, an impossible amassing of debris, overflowing, to the point of absurdity and uselessness, another kind of mass collection of particular units that becomes an emptiness, a clutter a cosmos of Nothing, like the speech in this book… there’s an apartment that is a shipwreck in a storm, an infinitely sinking room filling being sunk by the accumulating debris of the modern world…

And J R is also a novel about Gaddis’s own frustrations as an artist, his frustration with the reception of The Recognitions (see Fire The Bastards! by Jack Green), his frustrations with attempting to live and work a creative life within the very world described in J R. We should all be thankful he had the perseverance to see it through, the ears to hear what he heard, the courage to write it out in the face of all the world’s demands on our freedom and all its curious animosities… so that he might accomplish Hamlet’s centuries-old demand “ the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” With J R, he has done this very thing.

”The sincere endeavour to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose. And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who, in the fulness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: -- My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel -- it is, before all, to make you see. That -- and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm -- all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.” -Joseph Conrad


As a tribute to Gaddis, below I’ve taken a one star review of J R from this site and tried to improve it by running it through a series of iterations in an online translation program. This is a kind of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, or maybe a new internet age type of player piano? Either way, enjoy.


Sorry guys. Probably Factory enemy or two here, but I'm not HEY Me ...

This book stinks. Monco !!!! Oh Yeah sure, you will find NIIT, who say this, I do not have one of the best novels of the 20th century, a work of genius. They dispersion of the literature, which is stylings of modernism Paint wise, witty satirization I mboliza yadda yadda yadda ... drive Benefits Some went so far as to say that the book (SI Gaddis) I am positive results. Really ?? Coming soon ... Really ?? Left pure ingenuity Gaddis Niidar money to get this brick printed, published, SI hyped-up enough to win the National Book bed. He used the must-ni, bribery, extortion maybe? Han Han know incriminating evidence out some of the most influential literary SI realizar say, for Niidar imaxes PET or something?

I found this book - I like very much - just plain annoying NOT contaminate Luke. I mean, what you type on the first (or say) Story of the browser (listen Concentrate) It does not make heads or tails is SIIT, Loyd "voice" Other Always portfolio befuddlement that were things we drink Factory ver, SI Milloins? It is a small error Cogent comes to colors samall keep readers, Carballo Mjata NIIT Mere drift aimlessly in desultory conversation. This would have taken some curse. If not, punctuation marks ... or rather the lack of tarde. Han Gaddis received quotes comma, SI put the letters after the Full Report immediately to Mara?

Actually, the un-stuck in a van in New Taman past hurts, is not it a bit OCD reason van SI do not leave a record among the. Apart na HILO, Si, I liked the hope that I waded through the twisting Page 726, the book will solve itself van. Eiko !!!! SAFETY Sita, however, times are times when the light discretion paragraph're keep the black, but they were few color SI Far East in September Tuke enjoy the novel. I am a farmer IF NOT book with ENIT enemy. All the thoughts, perhaps Mina.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
November 20, 2015
“I mean why should somebody go steal and break the law to get all they can when there's always some law where you can be legal and get it all anyway!”
― William Gaddis, JR


How do you rate this adequately heh? Four stars allows that humanity (or Gaddis) might reach a little higher, dance a little quicker, squeeze a little more juice out of the GD lemon, but sitting here now it also seems like I would have to go and downgrade all previous fours if I only gave it four stars. Five it must be. Besides, if I rate it as five now, I can always downgrade it later, after reading The Recognitions and use the carry-forward star loss to offset the capital gains on my outstanding shares of stars.

I'm not sure my wife loved it, since it proved once and fore..., well unequivocally, that I'm a bad father yes, inadequate husband yes, don't sleep much hey and this may be (let all the F=ing challengers just try and knock it down) my GD favorite GD books in the whole GD world. This morning, with 100 pages left, part of me just wanted to loop the SOB and start reading it again once I finished. That 3am euphoria has since passed, luckily.

Recommendation to friends who read this after me ... try to read about 200 pgs/day, because GDs this book almost requires you read it GD fast. I read somewhere online (yes there it is GD Paris Review) that Gaddis said the secret to reading J R was "it was my hope -- for many readers it worked, for others it did not -- that having made some effort they would not read too agonizedly slowly and carefully, trying to figure out who is talking and so forth. It was the flow that I wanted, for the readers to read and be swept along -- to participate. And enjoy it. And occasionally chuckle, laugh along the way." Well, GD, the flow thing kinda works. It also helps that I have a GD series 7 and the financial stuff all made perfect f+ing sense.
Profile Image for Franco  Santos.
484 reviews1,360 followers
February 3, 2017
«Por qué la gente infringe las leyes para coger todo lo que pueden si siempre hay alguna ley con la que puedes ser legal y cogerlo todo de todas formas».
Quería leer este libro antes de ir con la considerada mejor obra de Gaddis, Los reconocimientos. Con Jota Erre esperaba algo que me permitiera entrar en la narrativa de Gaddis y no sorprenderme con nada que pudiera aparecer en Los reconocimientos. Pero cuando ya llevaba más de 100 páginas dentro de Jota Erre supe que este libro no era ninguna introducción a Gaddis ni mucho menos, más bien todo lo contrario: pareciera que Gaddis no solo escribió una Gran Novela, sino que escribió dos.

Jota Erre está conformado casi completamente por diálogos (podría ser en un 98 %). Pero no diálogos armónicos y completos: diálogos entrecortados. No hay muchas oraciones en Jota Erre que tengan el privilegio de llegar a su final. Entre más de 25 personajes se despliega una red de ruido (de hecho el mismo Gaddis dijo esto, que quería que esta novela fuera «un caos inconexo, una tormenta de ruido»), sin descanso. Gente hablando y hablando y hablando, pero sin comunicarse. Nadie se escucha entre sí y nadie se preocupa sobre lo que dice. Simplemente hacen ruido para dotar de algún sonido al mundo.

Claramente, ante ese recurso de los diálogos se hace bastante difícil seguirle el ritmo a Jota Erre, y más si Gaddis, para complicar un poco más las cosas, no dice quién es el que está hablando. No hay cambios de capítulo, gente conocida y anónima habla mientras es interrumpida por la televisión, intercomunicadores y la radio; un caos. El lector se tiene que dar cuenta de quién es quién por el contexto y por la forma de hablar del personaje. Y sí, esto es un alivio. Si hay algo que Gaddis hizo perfectamente bien es darle una voz particular a cada uno de los personajes, que hace mucho más fácil distinguir quién es el que habla. (Cabe aclarar que la parte más difícil de Jota Erre son las primeras 250 páginas, luego resulta más sencillo tener constancia de lo que anda sucediendo, aunque siempre es necesaria una dosis de atención elevada para no perderse).

Pero el libro realmente no es un «caos». Jota Erre está muy bien armado. Cada hecho que sucede en Jota Erre encaja cuidadosamente con otro hecho. No hay realmente una desconexión de acontecimientos, sino que esa falta de conexión se vive solamente en los mismos personajes, por sus egos y su codicia y falta de empatía por el otro (de hecho muy pocos llegan a sufrir cuando un personaje muere o tiene un accidente). Aunque con esto no quiero decir que Jota Erre carezca de un elemento sentimental o profundo, porque tiene, y bastante, principalmente en los viajes en tren. Para los personajes, los viajes en tren funcionan como una especie de suspensión del ritmo empresarial y capitalista que transpira en cada página del libro, una clase de detención para separarse de la presión del dinero y los activos y las acciones y lo que sea y ser ellos mismos, y conectar.

Jota Erre nos permite espiar un mundo regido meramente por las acciones, las herencias, las empresas, la publicidad, el márketing, la falta de valores y de moralidad, un mundo regido por el dinero, que lamentablemente no se aleja mucho de la sociedad que conocemos ahora. En Jota Erre todos tienen una porción de x empresa, todos están organizados en algo para ganar dinero e ignoran otros factores de la vida y el mundo. Y aquí es cuando entra en escena el arte. El arte en Jota Erre está sojuzgado por la política empresarial, por el capitalismo salvaje. Eigen, Bast, uno, escritor de novelas, el otro, de música, no pueden dar rienda suelta a lo que tienen dentro. Ese bloqueo artístico es debido a una corrupción del arte en sí, y esa corrupción no viene de otra cosa que del susodicho capitalismo. Hallar el verdadero arte cuando se encuentra perseguido por empresarios y publicistas con ganas de transformarlo en dinero no va a ser una tarea fácil para aquellos personajes, y esa va a ser su tragedia.

Lo que más me gustó de Jota Erre es que gracias al recurso de los diálogos no existen descripciones de cómo se siente cada personaje por dentro, o lo que piensa. Eso me parece que nos permite encontrarnos con uno de los libros más reales que existen, una de las mejores imitaciones de la vida. Por lo que dice cada personaje nosotros, los lectores, tenemos que tratar de quizá descifrar lo que está sucediendo en su interior, cómo se siente. Gaddis volvió al lector una persona más dentro de su ficción, un juego metaficcional supremo.

En fin. Jota Erre no es un libro para cualquiera. Requiere paciencia, atención y estar preparados para aburrirse, pero si se le da una oportunidad y no se privan de leerlo a pesar de su carácter de tour de force, se verán recompensados. Jota Erre está plagado de humor, una sátira de la sociedad moderna sin dejar de lado las desgracias personales de sus personajes. Un libro completo, uno de los mejores que he leído en mi vida.
Profile Image for Sentimental Surrealist.
294 reviews48 followers
November 12, 2016
I've now read three articles (two of them introductions to Gaddis' own books) on this author that concern the purported difficulty of his work: one by Rick Moody, one by Jonathan Franzen, and my personal favorite, William H. Gass' intro to The Recognitions. Rick Moody wants us to believe that this, widely seen as one of the hardest novels ever written, is actually a fun time, and he's not too far off the mark. Franzen wants us to believe that reading Gaddis is a brain-destroyingly difficult task, fit only for the bravest of readers, and he's not too far off the mark, either. And Gass? Gass thinks that Gaddis is hard, but that you'd be a complete moron to hold it against him. Of course, Gass probably thinks you're a moron either way.

"Ah," you probably didn't think (but you're getting my opinion anyway! Ha! You're trapped, you're trapped, you're oh who am I kidding you can just scroll down), "but what is your opinion, random schlub on the internet nobody's heard of?" As such things often go, both sides have a point. The trick to JR, the novel with no dialog tags or scene transitions, is this: once you've gotten past the point where every character is established and the whole novel sets itself in, it's pretty easy to work out who's talking and therefore easy to follow the novel's lurching progress as our eponymous hero exploits legal loophole after legal loophole to become a corporate tycoon at age eleven. It's not just JR you hear from, either, but his friends, family, business associates, and schoolteachers, as well as plenty of people within his friends', family's, business associates' and schoolteachers' circles. Much more difficult than sorting out what the hell's going on is sorting out what's important and what's not. As he did with his first novel, Gaddis throws subplot after subplot at you. If you pick up on them, great. If not, he's not too concerned.

How is it as a novel? Well, it's excellent. Gaddis' polyphony is beautiful, varied, often hilarious, and always a torrent of sheer words. For language lovers like me, that makes this book a sort of gift from god. Those rare moments where he sticks some descriptive prose in are almost as a rule beautiful, but Gaddis is more interested in how communication functions and where it breaks down than he is in painting pretty pictures for the reader. This is going to inevitably drive some readers crazy, but it works just fine for me. Also of interest are the characters and their elaborate relationships with money. Some of them seek to transcend it (Bast, the arguable Gaddis stand-in Gibbs), some seek to micromanage it (Whiteback and his crew), some seek to make as much of it as possible (JR), but no one can escape it. Everyone finds themselves defined by money, which is after all the first word in this novel, spoken in a voice that rustled.

Before I wrap things up, I feel a little discussion of JR himself is necessary, because he's such a charming character. True, he's a little lacking in ethics, being eleven and therefore selfish, but he's also, by far, the most convincing preteen genius-type character I've ever come across, in that he actually seems like a goddamn eleven-year-old. I work with kids, so I see a whole slew of JRs for five hours a day: nose-pickers and butt-scratchers who yell instead of talking, who never let anyone get a word in edgewise, who are capable of rambling for hours about their interests and their crazy dreams if you let them (and I'm being paid to let them, so yeah, I hear a lot of crazy dreams), who are often pretty clever with the books but can send a whole social situation straight down the drain with a comment along the lines of "your shirt's ugly." I appreciate the fact that Gaddis made his kid seem like a kid, because JR's quirks, especially his interactions with reluctant business partner Edward Bast, add so much fun to this novel.

So I mean, don't let it scare you or anything, but go in with eyes wide open: there's a lot to take in here, and in typical Gaddis fashion, there isn't really a skeleton key to unlocking which of the subplots are important to understanding the novel, which are important to understanding the themes, and which are important to understanding the overwhelming nature of the modern world. It moves at a slow pace but reads quickly, and you'll find there's a lot to laugh about by the time it's done. I still prefer the Recognitions because I love books loaded with arcane references, but I didn't just sort of hand this one its five star score, you know?
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,072 followers
December 3, 2012
Well he, of course he did yes I, because it's one place it's the one place an idea can be left here you can walk out and close the door and leave it here unfinished the most, the wildest secret fantasy and it stays on here by itself in that balance between, the balance between destruction and and realization until..."

Talking day to night Barbie power suits. Nine to five to pour a cup of rat poison in your kid's cup of ambition. I don't understand money except that I don't have any. I don't understand the current economic crisis except that money is printed and not everyone agree it has value. In God We Trust and some fine print I was too dumb to read first before I signed up for this mess. I was almost jealous of the idiot savant J.R., the testicular character. I guess he's an idiot savant, falling ass backwards into things like Kramer on Seinfeld. Hiring four star generals for his board of directors? It seems like these guys with money do that thing so this is my cruder copy of that thing. He would tell Mr. Bast he was doing it all for him. Look, this is the heart we had to make in class, yeah? No one ask any questions, don't look down economics. He will no doubt fare better in the world than I ever could. I'm the unpopular fat cheerleader at the bottom of the pyramid scheme. But then I don't want to wonder about how there is a millionaire for everything, either. I snapped out of my life failing feeling. I probably shouldn't admit to J.R. looking like he knew what he was doing envy. I get so scared some days over bills that a little of J.R.'s blindness would probably help me sleep better.

I identified with Amy in the café when she snaps over picking on the little old man who runs the place who tries so hard. Why does it have to be that way? Those who try so hard anyway are my heroes. It's really hard. J.R. is about trying hard when you are in the suit that is too big or too small for you. You're wife left you. You're tired of hearing about how your husband could have been everything that he needed to want to be when he grew up if he only didn't have a wife and kid to take care of. It's not losing your soul when you have to try so damned hard all of the time. These people come into your home and they measure your backyard for their new thing they want to build over you. You work all of the time, as you're working. Nothing is free. I don't want to be stepped on like a consumed bag of Wise potato chips hopping with flavor. I didn't want to be a standardized test. Make up the music in your head as you're working. Hug J.R. to your chest when he thinks there are stuffed people in the natural history museum. J.R. had a lot of heart. I put up off reading this book for a long time because I thought it was going to be a satire about the money obsessed culture. It's about not burning in the oven with your bills you're too afraid to open. I was moved by the effort. The real work, not the making others money work for you. I live with them on the bottom of the pyramid. I had a lot more to say in my head but I am really tired. It took me months to read J.R. because I haven't been sleeping enough for a long, long time. It was my comfort to read a little every morning before having to go to work again. A kind of sanity valve. Someone in the crowd to say "This shit is insane!" and not pretend that it's not all a bunch of made up shit. I don't only mean the money shit. Trying to get along with anything at all. It is all just a bunch of made up stuff, right? Can't it be about more than making it through the day. I miss my J.R. ritual.

… and they gaped obediently at the bird dropping coursing down that weathered angel’s cheek until the light changed and released them across Broadway and down Wall in disheveled Indian file staggered seriatim by a stench rising from the sidewalk grating at No. 11 until George Washington’s extended hand flung their attention fragmented round the corner into Broad where the lofty pediment at No. 20 threatened to spill its stone comedy of naked labor yoked, high above their heads, to the lively dominion seething within, buffeted by the anxiety of lifetimes’ savings adrift in windbreakers and flowered hats towards the visitors’ gallery where football field hyperbole addressed them in a voice strategically boxed along the rail.
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews404 followers
December 19, 2017
JR is certainly a stylistic masterpiece. As far as I’m aware its structure – that is, a single, gargantuan, unbroken passage comprised almost entirely of unattributed dialogue – has not been attempted before or since. Depending on what you think about the novel, you might interpret this as being indicative of a literary pinnacle, or a dead-end. I think it’s a little of both.

The brilliance of this novel is in how much Gaddis manages to communicate given the constraints of the structure. The settings seem formed in vivid detail, despite the fact that direct descriptions are rarely given. Similarly, the characters are clearly differentiated, and are often easily identifiable solely by the characteristics of their speech. It’s hard to dissect exactly how Gaddis achieves this, but it is astounding how he does so without relying on cheap tricks, such as stereotyped dialect or vocal tics for his characters, or transparently expositional dialogue for his settings. The writing possesses a voyeuristic naturalness, and the authorial hand is well hidden.

The writing, through its cacophony of voices and ever-shifting perspectives, creates an impression of chaos that reinforces the underlying critique of the world of business (on which I will not go into detail, since so much has been written already). However there is nothing haphazard about this novel. It is incredibly well structured and cohesive, and its clear that it has been carefully planned and painstakingly polished over the decades that Gaddis spent writing it.

But JR is such a perfect realisation of its own premises that its shortcomings clearly expose the limitations of its chosen style, and for this reason it struggles as a work which is to be read. JR is a novel that can be admired for its mastery, but it is not one that is particularly enjoyable or fulfilling to read. One must constantly work to extract a narrative from the din of chattering voices. The novel denies itself the range of tone and emotion that prose allows, and of which Gaddis has shown himself to be a master, in The Recognitions (the rare, short fragments of pure prose in JR only left me craving that other novel). One can imagine a painter choosing to paint with only the handle of the brush, or a musician composing for instruments which are out of tune – such experiments can push the limits of art and if executed well can demonstrate what art is capable of, but they often lack the simple yet profound emotional connection one can have with a pure work, which has been created by a genius who is utilising the full range of his talents.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,373 followers
August 21, 2016
JR is simply loads of fun. Don't fall for the Franzen trashtalk about Gaddis being "Mr Difficult." Just fun. And smart.

[NEW]--A conversation apropos the Dalkey reissue of JR regarding Gaddis, JR, and Difficulty at Open Letters Monthly.

Gaddis Annotations is all you'll need to keep yourself oriented to scene and character. Don't let that unattributed dialogue scare you off -- Gaddis has the talent to individuate each of his characters and you won't have to bother reading a bunch of "he said . . . and then she said. . . and he exclaimed."

Apr 6 2012 review by Len Gutkin at Bookforum on the occasion of the Dalkey Archive release. Damn, I love this book.
Profile Image for Ronald Morton.
408 reviews159 followers
February 6, 2017
I want to make clear up front that this is the strongest 5 Stars I can give – which is kind of a dumb thing to say, but I think rating books is kind of dumb (though I can’t wrap my head around not doing it). All books I give 5 Stars to are highly recommended, I’m just saying that this is one of the ones that should just be considered essential. Is it as good as The Recognitions? Nope. Is it almost as good as The Recognitions? Yep. I really shouldn’t have to say more on that.

This is the Gaddis book that typically shows up on all those “Most Difficult Novels” lists that pop up from time to time – having read The Recognitions, which is fucking difficult all on its own, I was a little intrigued to see if this was in fact more difficult. Which… it is, and it isn’t.

There are two different ways that you can read this book – first: you can struggle over every line, attempting to keep a firm grasp on who is speaking at all times, what exactly they are saying, and how it relates to the narrative as a whole (which, admittedly, is the way you should read most books); or, second: you can read it the way that Gaddis recommends, and try and read the book at the general pace one would overhear a conversation – in this way the reader will find themselves overwhelmed, confused, lost, but also – amazingly enough – able to be swept along with the torrential current of the novel, and through it all just barely able to keep up with the dizzying events and scope of the work. Because, really, that’s how Gaddis wanted it – he wanted to capture the chaos and the noise and the overwhelming tumult of where are culture was moving, and had wanted the reader to be engulfed by it.

The reason I would say this book is damn near as essential as The Recognitions, and should be held up as a masterpiece of American Literature (or, really, just Literature in general) is that it can be read both ways. Not only does Gaddis capture the high level overwhelming chaos that he wanted to – he also managed to get all of the details on the page in such a way that the book can stand up to a deep read if that’s what the reader desires – you can dip in and out of the minutia as you want, and you’ll always find your footing, no matter how tenuous. Oh, it’s also laugh out loud funny.

So what makes J R so difficult? Well, it’s almost entirely dialogue, and Gaddis almost never explicitly tells you who is speaking. The reader has to pick up on the conversational participants either through the way they speak, through conversational clues, or – hopefully – by their name being mentioned by another speaker (though that doesn’t happen super frequently). There is very little narrative outside of the dialogue, and, because Gaddis doesn’t use “” to designate dialogue, the narrative is frequently presented in the same paragraph as dialogue itself, leaving the reader to suss out which is which. On top of that, there are no chapters, and there are no section breaks – the book is basically 720 continuous pages. So the reader will be following one conversation, which will end, but one participant of that conversation picks up another conversation – many times in motion – which shifts the scene through that character’s travel – with no explicit indication of this from Gaddis. So not only does the reader need to keep up with who is talking (and, of course, what they are talking about) but they also need to keep up with the implied motion and position of the characters themselves throughout the book. Oh, and a lot of the conversation the reader overhears is one character speaking on the telephone, with ellipses designating pauses while the speaker is listening to responses, but the reader is not privy to those responses, so it’s up to them to fill-in-the-blanks.

This is all very overwhelming, but at the same time it basically ensures that each reader’s experience with the book will be unique – the characters the reader sees in their head while reading are almost entirely the reader’s own creation (as almost no descriptions exist within the book); and the same goes for all unheard dialogue. The reader is a direct participant in the creation of the narrative.

Lastly, this is a terrifying book. Its satire remains troublingly relevant even today – perhaps even more so than when Gaddis wrote the book – the complexity of our financial systems has only grown over the last 40 years, and the ability to cobble together wealth on paper – numbers with no tangible reality from a liquidity perspective, but with the concrete ability to disrupt the entropy of entire ecosystems/societies/cultures – has really only accelerated. It’s easy to laugh at this book – some of the scenes are comedy of the highest order, as incisive and cutting as anything Swift wrote – but it’s almost always a troubled laugh, as if the reader knows – deep down – that the joke is on them.

*A quick note – if you’re not familiar with the williamgaddis.org resource you really should be. There is an amazing depth of stuff contained there – but the most helpful thing I found was the scene outline for J R. At 720+ pages, you’re likely not going to finish this in a sitting, and the outline linked here helps a great deal in stepping back into the narrative (since, again, there are no breaks). And, if you find yourself completely lost, this will help you find your way back*
Profile Image for Jonathan.
921 reviews979 followers
July 13, 2017
This book is devastatingly sad.
This book is devastatingly funny.

" Over cartons and lampshades the mop flew to lodge behind Appletons' and he hitched himself back to the edge of the plateau steadying one foot on Won't Burn, Smoke or Smell, looking into it, digging among un-developed film rolls, string, an odd glove, defunct cigarette lighters, coming up with a straw beach slipper he fitted descending, paused against to brush another layer of dirt down his front before he sat on the sofa's edge staring down at a fresh lined page, up at the ceiling, at the Baldung, at 24-7 Oz Pkgs Flavored Loops, appearing to listen as shreds of sound escaped sporadic partings of his lips, scribbling a clef, notes, a word, a curve, still reaching fresh pages as light chilled the skewed leaves of the blind, lapsed motionless as it warmed the punctured shade and finally cast it into shadow, coming to abruptly and through to the torrent at the sink with the slap, slap of the straw slipper back to set the cup dangling the teabag string on Moody's and reach a sharper pencil, a fresh page, pages as shadows rose, crossed, fell, hunched as though listening to bring sounds into being, up in a sudden turn that might have been a pose for the mirrorless wall as though holding them off.

- time to join the biggest savings bank fam…

- Wait who is it….! he was through to catch the door as it came in at him – oh it's, it's you Mister Gibbs wait let me…. "

I chose the above almost at random, as it demonstrates well the textual techniques Gaddis employs, and the extent of his genius. The three primary styles of the novel are displayed here: the single-take, free flowing camera moves of the "intervals" between the scenes; the collage-effect quotes from radio, posters, newsprint, that constant bustle and noise intruding into conversations; and the precise re-creation of the confused and confusing truth of our speech, shot through with moments of narrative, of movement.

The music of the "interval" is extraordinary. It is filled with subtle alliteration, assonance and repetition. We see Bast doing what precisely? He stands, puts on a straw slipper, sits on the edge of the sofa, composes, creates, he goes and makes a cup of tea, sits, thinking, creating as time passes until the opening door, and the arrival of Gibbs, startles him from his reverie and he stands up. Bast's music is important to us, as it is important to Gaddis, and his failure (or one could read his final crayon-scribbled act of creation as some sort of success, some sort of refusal to be completely crushed by the moneyed world) is deeply felt. So this witnessing of his art is vital, as is the recognition of the intrusions of commerce even here, of Loops and the crackle of the radio-voice.

Why does the light chill the skewed blind, and then warm the punctured shade? Is it necessary for us to permit the world to penetrate us for art to be created, rather than turning away, blocking it out? But what if that world is as noisy, demanding and crushing as the one flooding through this novel? One cannot create art without the world. One cannot create art within the world. Therein lies the eternal dilemma.

There are already many wonderful reviews of this novel on GR, so I will not attempt to say much more. You all have said much better than I can why this is such an extraordinary and important book.

We are children of capitalism, it is in our blood, our DNA. Twisted veins of commerce clog our brains. We cannot escape it. It is our curse. Yet it can be, dare I say it, and clichéd as it is to do this rhetorical trick, a blessing. Not least because, were it not for my job and my income, I could not have bought and consumed this text. Such is our condition, the wonder and the woe of it, and Gaddis tells it truer than any.

Now on to the Frolic….
Profile Image for Cody.
535 reviews192 followers
January 3, 2022
There’s much darkness in the world. There are only pockets of light. If we ever have to submit documenting arguments to gain entrance to Heaven, I’m slipping St. Peter my copy of this. This shows the best of us, Pete, hey holy shit—

Nothing less than one of my absolute Top Ten books. One of my favorite anythings. It’s like a river I can return to, visit and immerse within, and come back to years later to do it all over again. The river’s changed, the river’s the same. What I bring to it gets left on the banks. I simply live the river out of respectful awe when in it; let whatever come when I depart do its best. It fundamentally washes over you and you must surrender to J R’s specific current. I’ll return until there’s no longer a me to return. It’s a different river, the river is the same. I know few things as beautiful.
Profile Image for Stuart.
296 reviews21 followers
August 21, 2008
Glad I finished it, but I wouldn't read it again if you nailed it to my forehead and pinned my eyes open. 726 pages of unattributed dialogue. No complete sentences, just maddeningly naturalistic speech - all run-ons and sentence fragments and ums and ahs. No chapter breaks. A floating POV with only the dialogue to alert you to scene changes and character entrances/exits. In other words, a migraine dressed as a novel. But in all fairness, it's a good novel anyway. The title character, a sixth grader with a preternatural head for business, is refreshingly believeable in a stammering, booger-eating way - unlike so many other books lately where the eleven year old talks and acts like he's thirty. JR starts by sending away for free information kits out of the backs of magazines and ends up with a paper conglomerate worth gazillions; but of course the cards all tumble in the end. Along the way Gaddis lets about a hundred characters eviscerate themselves with their own words: teachers and school administrators, lawyers, PR men, retired generals, would-be writers, hippy chicks - all these idiots who get sucked up in the vortex of JR's whirling ambition. If Gaddis hadn't been so obsessive about the crazy experimental format, I would have given JR five stars. But as it stands, I can't recommend it to anyone I like.
Profile Image for Seth Austin.
197 reviews111 followers
April 17, 2023
Hey? You listening…?

JR is a boom mic hanging over the middle of a crowded room. Voices filter in with and without context, making no apology for their density and disorder. Believe me when I say “density” is a carefully chosen word. We’re talking 780 pages of unbroken, unattributed dialogue. As opposed to the conventional use of inverted commas followed by a ‘x said’ ‘y said’ identifier, Gaddis employs the Joycean dash, with only character interaction and vocal ticks to identify who’s speaking. The result is an unrestrained cacophony of voices talking to, at, and over one another for pages on end, with only the occasionally dreamlike set transition to break up the stream of consciousnesses (plural). Consciousnesses that have all of their eyes set on the same point of fixation:

Money. Paper, yes.

JR is a display of entropy left to proceed toward its predestined conclusion. Sorry folks, Maxwell’s Demon is decidedly absent from this narrative. It’s not the novel’s job to systematise the discrete bytes of information within for you, package it and serve it in a way that goes down easily – that’s your job. Gaddis has no interest in a passive experience. Not only are you, the reader, directly implicated in his cultural vivisection, but also an active participant in his carnival of noise, noise, fucking noise. Gaddis hijacks your attention, weaponizes it, and turns it against, forcing you to parse exhaustedly through the mess and attempt to establish some order amongst the rubble. To that, I tell you, good luck.

Because “order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos”.

Because “you just can’t understand anything you can’t get your hands on, anything you can’t feel or see or, or count...”.

Because “everything sacred’s breaking down”.

If in reading this, you find yourself unsure if you’re ready to approach a novel of this volume (in every sense of the word), I assure you, you are, and it’s worth it. But first I want to ask you…

Are you listening?
Profile Image for John.
Author 17 books183 followers
June 12, 2008
An essential, a masterwork: uproarious yet profoundly troubling, syllable-perfect in its rendering of voices both adolescent and doddering, and gathering a vital and thunderous narrative force though it features a cast and a technique that risks utter confusion. Indeed, confusion is one of the core themes here, spiritual confusion, as Gaddis here looms up like a recording angel of late-20th Century materialist culture. He gets the entire culture, yes, though his plot never moves beyond a middle school in working-class Long Island, a few offices and apartments in Manhattan, and the commuter lines between the two. JR opens these few venues to the entire shocked and sorry world. The artist who brought off this astonishing portrait composes like an angel alert to every comic foible in how we communicate (see, especially, the way he toys with "friendly to bellies" and "subsiderrary"), and few novels will have you laughing so often. Few make so much happen over the phone! But few are so grimly perfect about what our ever-more-frenzied valorization of money-making has done to the family and the soul. Twenty years and more after I first tackled it, JR haunts me still, its lines and moments more stinging, more true than ever.
Profile Image for Alexander Weber.
263 reviews43 followers
September 9, 2017
4.5 / 5
Wow. I won't be able to write everything here right now. This book is such a monumental achievement. I can't imagine what it took to write it, and I can't pretend to understand all of it. Everyone is so connected through back channels or invisible ties...it's hard to make sense of it all. Despite it being entirely in dialogue (well almost), and despite the book feeling at first as though it may not be able to create a fully formed 3D whole person, the book ends up brimming and overflowing with complex characters searching for meaning and purpose or else for money and success and all being stymied by each other (often unknowingly) or by the very system they are working in / creating.
Franzen was wrong about this novel. I don't know what is wrong with him if he can't take the fucking time to read it.
This book reminded me a lot of Infinite Jest. I think it is an order of magnitude better. I don't know why IJ gets more attention than JR. If you liked the former, you will absolutely love the latter.
Amy, JR, Gibbs, Rhoda, Bast, Duncan... oh lord these were great characters. The novel fucking explodes with connections and chaos and heartbreak in the last 100 or so pages.
Wow...simply wow. I must read the rest of Gaddis' work.
Profile Image for Lisa.
96 reviews162 followers
January 24, 2022
I started this book at the wrong time, and finished it up in a crescendo of enjoyment as the book and my life collided more favourably.

The first thing everyone learns about this book is that it's almost exclusively written in unattributed dialogue. That's a whole lot of talking, sure. But conversations can take many forms, many tones. In JR they tend toward the frenetic or babbling sort, tilted toward businessspeak hectic enough to give me hives. In stark contrast to my life these days, which is quite tranquil; interruptions are few, tête-à-têtes abound, and I try to avoid talking about money as much as possible for the sake of my own sanity. So I resisted the frenzy at first, and was loath to sit in on so many brain-zapping meetings.

I was drawn in progressively, first by Gibbs, then the shift in my brain as I started working again and suddenly I could swim into JR's world as if I had never left, here a shot of plumbing chaos to numb your brain in the evenings, watch your step or you might trip on a Request denied, can't wait til my first paycheck comes in because I already spent it on a Day-Glo Mood Obviator for my roving office...

The brilliance is clear. I imagine Gaddis had a blast writing this. Choose your moment wisely.
Profile Image for Christopher.
283 reviews91 followers
October 1, 2019
This here book doesn’t need me to recommend it. But like I want to get down a few of my impressions to like help myself out in like the future you know. So’s I can like recall a little bit of this. But damn it, having spent a god damn long god damn time with this god damn book, I’ll just, holy I mean holy shit.
Profile Image for David Lentz.
Author 17 books313 followers
June 21, 2011
I have long been struck by the irony that the most avid readers of literary novels seem to have been virtually ignored by American publishers who cater to the mainstream. Sad to say but American publishing's mindless fixation with mediocre mainstream fiction has had an obliterating effect on American literary culture. So God Bless Penguin for having the good sense to bring to light, even belatedly, this breakthrough literary novel by a supremely gifted writer. I haven't read a more challenging novel by such a first-rate mind in ages. The style of the novel is based upon stream-of-voice: it's akin to walking down 5th Avenue and overhearing parts of conversations of passersby. The net effect is that the reader is compelled to become engaged by virtue of the context, style and story line of unidentified speakers until their voices become familiar. Until the reader succeeds in identifying the voices, the novel seems absurdly abstract. Like many great 20th century novels JR does appear incomprehensible at the outset until the reader discovers a roadmap to navigate this vast stream of voices. If life is order disguised as chaos, then JR is the very height of verisimilitude as there is a reality inherent in this novel that is breakthrough by virute of its style and intricately woven in its storyline. This stream-of-voice in a sense captures the fine art of the ancient oral tradition of story-telling starting with Homer. Jose Saramago in Blindness experimented in a similar way in his novel of discovery and so does Joyce in Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. JR is an important novel by a relatively obscure literary novelist worthy of the small but devoted readership of which it has become my privilege to join. In fact, I have just begun to read The Recognitions. If you are a serious reader of literary novels, then you owe it to yourself to read Gaddis. His novels are a national treasure: one only hopes that some day soon the nation will properly recognize it.
Profile Image for lyell bark.
142 reviews86 followers
August 19, 2013
this book is so damn long a famous american author named johnathan franzen was compelled to write an essay that was too damn long about how long and difficult this book is, and how he couldnt' finish itt. he also said the same thing about don quixote, which makes me think he didn't try very hand since like 400 pages of don quixote is about the don showing his di dong to sancho panza via mishaps involving horses, aand also farting.

jr isn't about farting or dingdongs most of the time, sadly, but there are some good jokes about long positions on bellies, and short posisitions on bellies, and so on.

most of the book is about people not listening to each other or anything else really but screaming as loud as possible + sifting through a big ol' mess of a room full of chinese made sweaters and looking for a drink of grape drink. at the end when people were screaming about shale oil in alaska and canada and how the government needs to bail out this here bank and this here other hedge fund i almost had a panic attack.

the other parts of the book are like, yelling about debentures or something. still can't say i really understand the soul and life destroying mechanisms of late capitalism but now i'm going to start incorperating jr's speech pattererns like "holy shit i mean" and "really neat". so i can, like, go to the hottest cafe in SOMA and say to people well holy shit i mean met this really neat guy from redwood city who's making this really neat app about going green with long futures on carbon debellies, i mean debentures., or whatever. also it is MUCh cutuer to have a raggedy snot nose kid repeat neoliberal economic policy, instead of weird fat european men, like in irl. ars brevis something longus or whatever, dude.

the really hard parts btw aren't all the talking, but the intersitial descriptive prose, imho. gaddis uses like 1,000 words to say "a fat taxi driver picked his nose" which is pretty admirable imho.
Profile Image for Zack.
112 reviews2 followers
July 5, 2023
“Let’s just try to act like grownup shareowners in a large corporation”

American capital culture sucks, Gaddis rules. We built a country on a foundation of greed and Protestant ethic and we are surrounded by the consequences - it’s in us at birth, it defines the parameters of reality as much as any law of physics or the whims of any God. This is an angrier, more experimental, more enjoyable, book than The Recognitions and IMO as good as anything billed as a “Great American Novel”. I love it.

Astonishingly plotted, every detail feels connected. It’s formed in perfect balance with the broader culture which cannot accept it - self aware that a world which necessitates a novel like this will ultimately reject it and willing to ask whether the effort needed to produce such a work is “worth it”. As a result, it’s a deeply sad story, one in which an author diagnoses the sickness around them but can only laugh at the ridiculousness un-impeachability of that sickness. And it’s prescient in the worst ways - Gaddis is writing about school shootings and NFTs and the corpritization of marijuana in 1975, tbd what else of JR comes to fruition. So it’s a real bummer, but it’s a funny and beautiful bummer and a reminder that some things are worth doing.

“—Problem what happened he always woke up the same person went to bed the night before only way he knew it these God damned words going through his head, go to bed knew he’d wake up the same God damned person finally couldn’t take it anymore, same God damned words waiting for him only thing to do get rid of the God damned container for the thing contained, God damned words come around next morning God damned container smashed on the sidewalk no place for them to . . .”
Profile Image for Christy.
313 reviews30 followers
January 15, 2009
Hugely disappointing. Once you look past the flash of his prose technique, the all-dialogue strategy plays like a one-note samba, and the characters are mostly tired mid-century clichés. The humor is strained, except for a few witty puns it’s all highly contrived slapstick, and Gaddis has a tendency to repeat any humorous verbal effect multiple times till it becomes tedious, even if it was funny in the first place. The portrayal of gender is about what you’d expect it to be, sadly: Gaddis joins his overrated peers: Bellow, Mailer, Roth, et al, in pitching that dumb old idea that hapless modern men are largely the victims of icy, conniving, uncaring women, and thus society has lost its way. Ho-hum. Yet, in spite of these tiresome negatives, Gaddis was still on to something timely: junk culture and its effect on human relationships and human creativity. He concocts an incredibly complicated set of transactions to show how we’re all enmeshed in this toxic net of profit-driven materialism. And his prose savant mastery of junk language is impressive: it’s just not really worth the candle: These days we’re way past his minor revelation, gotten by diligently plowing through 700+ pages worth of prose that hammers on the nerves like a mallet, that American capitalism is built on Silly Sand™. Or at least we ought to be past it, now.
Profile Image for Derrick Simerly.
39 reviews19 followers
July 21, 2021
A darn-good satire of/about/in/up/down American capitalism. The stream of dialogue was a fun thing to experience once I got used to it. Haven’t really experienced anything like it, similar kind of “fast stream” reading experience as Ducks, Newburyport, though. Some laugh out loud parts, some pretty boring parts, as is life. Darkly comic. Within the hilarity there are criticisms that are very serious and dire.
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