The Letters of William Gaddis


“America has odd ways of making one feel one’s self a failure. And looking over the fragments of our correspondence assembled, I am just terribly struck at the consistency, from my end, of howls about money, and from yours of reassurances, hopes, encouragement: of course this isn’t really news (and probably hardly unique in your file of writers), but seeing it so all at once did overwhelm me with a clearer sense of what I’ve put you through year after year, and I wish to Christ it had finally come up on the note of triumph you have hoped and worked so hard for.” Like most sensible serious writers, Gaddis never actually planned for his “triumph” to be posthumous; nor was he trying to write books that would be considered unreadable (usually by people who hadn’t read them). “What pained me most about the reviewers,” he writes in 1960, referring to the notoriously inadequate reception for “The Recognitions,” “was their refusal — their fear — to relax somewhat with the book and be entertained.” To be fair, one can understand why your average reviewer might not have been able to “relax” when faced by a thousand-page novel packed with theological allusions, inventive (but consistent) punctuation, dense, tiny typography and huge, tree-trunk-wide paragraphs. It’s a daunting task just lifting one of Gaddis’s best novels — let alone reading it.

more from Scott Bradfield at the NY Times here.