THE RUSH FOR SECOND PLACE

ESSAYS AND OCCASIONAL WRITINGS

Sometimes dense, but always discerning: essential for Gaddis fans and those seeking an offbeat critique of American...

The great novelist (Agape Agape, p. 1053, etc.) explores his fascination with machines, greed, violence, and art in odd bits of nonfiction, some appearing in print for the first time.

Gaddis (1922–98) never hesitated from targeting the nation’s economic elite in his densely packed fiction, and his essays are no different. For example, in a piece that first appeared in the New York Times Book Review in 1995, he has no trouble linking Newt Gringrich’s Contract with America to Samuel Butler’s 1872 utopian novel, Erewhon. Both Butler and Gingrich, he argues, predicate their passion for law and order on stamping out difference, and their intent resembles the function of most technology, another Gaddis obsession. In an essay written as a script for an IBM promotional film, he writes that a player piano performs its music as beautifully as a real player might, raising the question of the artist’s purpose, but it also leaves one feeling cold, because ultimately the same humans replaced by the piano are the sources of, and the ones listening to, the music. There’s a connection here between Gaddis’s criticism of the Contract with America and of the player piano; both beget an alienated and usually underserved audience. The title piece argues that this audience, the American public, has opted for second place: the good life as defined by status and three square meals a day. Instead of holding fast to the Protestant work ethic that views material success as tantamount to goodness, Gaddis would prefer Americans to work on goodness and let the material success follow. Will the business leaders of American society ever make this transformation? On that point, the author is cynical. Joseph Tabbi provides an excellent introduction and biographical background that’s particularly helpful in a collection that spans 50 years.

Sometimes dense, but always discerning: essential for Gaddis fans and those seeking an offbeat critique of American civilization.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2002

ISBN: 0-14-200238-0

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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