William Gaddis (review)
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Reviewed by
Steven Moore. William Gaddis. Boston: Hall, 1989. 161 pp. No price given.

Most academic journals have given up reviewing books in Twayne's United States Authors Series. The quality of Steven Moore's William Gaddis, along with Patrick O'Donnell's John Hawkes and E. P. Walkiewicz's John Barth, suggests that book review editors should take a look at future Twayne releases, especially those on contemporary writers. Because Gaddis has published only three novels, he fits nicely into the brief space Twayne allows its authors. However, because two of these books are massive and all are exceedingly complicated in technique, they demand and receive from Moore a sophisticated treatment that transforms the old Twayne format, the plot outlines and character studies for high school students. And unlike the marginal toilers Twayne used to sign up, Steven Moore is a recognized scholar, author of a reader's guide to The Recognitions and co-editor of a collection of essays on Gaddis, both published by university presses. The first survey of Gaddis' life and career, William Gaddis is also worthy of university press publication—but without the jargon that pervades many books from the high-powered presses.

An acquaintance of Gaddis and a tireless researcher, Moore provides a surprising amount of biographical information about this elusive and private author, material that sometimes undercuts with comic effect earlier critics' speculations about Gaddis' work. Moore also uses this information and his thorough knowledge of contemporary American fiction to contextualize Gaddis in several literary traditions. Moore's purpose is more than taxonomical. His introduction and conclusion make a strong case for teaching Gaddis' work in university classrooms.

The adventurous professor will be well-served by Moore's book. He reads Gaddis more carefully than any other critic and demonstrates throughout, but especially in his chapter on The Recognitions, how Gaddis' seeming chaos of characters, allusions, and plots is a set of intricate orders. Moore's commentary deftly synthesizes major interpretations and contributes new readings. Having written about JR, I am particularly impressed by Moore's treatment of it. He explicates a character and plot strand no critic had noticed and thereby modifies previous readings. Usually treated as a linguistic junk heap, JR is in Moore's discussion a much more literary work than most critics recognize.

Moore employs recent critical theory to argue the intertextual and metafictional accomplishment of Carpenter's Gothic. Working without the benefit of other critics, Moore illustrates his capacity for original and profound interpretation, which leads into thoughtful critical evaluation. Given Moore's arguments for Carpenter's Gothic, a work which disappointed me, I will read it again and perhaps use it in a course.

Anyone interested in Gaddis will obviously want to have William Gaddis. More important, anyone interested in seeing how the virtues of old-fashioned scholarship, close reading, and theoretical sophistication can be valuably combined should read this new Twayne book, what I hope will be a model for future studies in the series. [End Page 773]

Tom LeClair
University of Cincinnati
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