William Gaddis’s American Pessimism

Dustin Illingworth at The Point:

William Gaddis’s first novel, The Recognitions (1955), was initially famous for its inaccessibility. More talked about than read, the book perplexed critics with its seemingly endless allusions and erudite tangents. Despite this initial reception, however, the novel was eventually recognized as a major achievement, whose formal complexity signaled postwar fiction’s evolution beyond its vestigial modernism. Gaddis’s second novel, J R (1975), won the National Book Award, an honor he would receive again almost twenty years later, for A Frolic of His Own (1994). By the time he died, in 1998, his influence on American fiction had become pervasive, extending from the encyclopedic systems novels of the Seventies and Eighties to the more recent excesses of hysterical realism. Among the great postmodernists, only Pynchon, himself a Gaddis acolyte, comes close to exerting the same planetary attraction.

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