A FROLIC OF HIS OWN by William Gaddis


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 Greed and its destruction of independent authenticity is Gaddis's best subject, and with it here he has essentially rewritten his masterpiece, JR (1975)--not so much with business as the focus (as in that earlier book) but with lawyers. A ne'er-do-well college instructor, Oscar Crease, has written a long, sludgy philosophical Civil War play that he once sent off desperately to a TV producer; years later, a Hollywood blockbuster movie seems to duplicate (though only in Crease's mind) some of the stuff in the play. Crease sues--plagiarism--and is promptly sucked down into wholesale legal disaster: depositions, bills, opinions, more bills, appeals, more bills, bills and bills. His half-sister Christina and her establishment law-firm partner husband try to steer him through--but everyone gets drowned in the tidal wave of litigiousness. Meanwhile, Crease's own elderly father, a federal judge, is, as a sidebar, a stereoscopic whack at the legal system, simultaneously ruling on a case involving a dog killed while stuck in a piece of public sculpture (the book's most mordantly funny set-piece). Here, like JR, the novel is one of voices that are remarkably faithful to the real patterns of speech--interrupted, trivial, saying most when no one else seems to be listening. Paragraphs of speeded-up narrative link the voices, which are also interspersed now and then with depositions and judicial opinions. Gaddis's paranoid comedy of skepticism (some of it fairly cheap: a director named Jonathan Livingston Siegel, a car company called Sosumi Motors) pushes relentlessly forward... ...but if you've read a quarter of the book, you've read the whole thing: clever and brilliant though it is, it feels like a massive imposition on your time. Gaddis seems to want to prove the novel capable of film's open mike and panning shots, music's structure, and opera's recitatives (everyone only screeches and beseeches)--but once he has, all that finally seems left is a rather tinny note of pissed-off energy and formal subordination.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-671-66984-2
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1993


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