Friday, June 27, 2014
Best I Read This But it Took a While
Last week I finished reading this book called The Recognitions by William Gaddis. I believe I started reading it in February? I remember that I started reading it at a pizza place in midtown at lunch time, across the street from the Nintendo store. If I can find my receipt from that meal I might be able to determine how long it took me to read it. Anyway, why'd it take so long? Oh, because it was another gigantic book (960 pages, give or take) and it was a tricky, tricky read. Last year I read a Gaddis novel called JR that I really liked, it was only 700'ish pages but written almost entirely in unattributed dialogue. It was a monster. The Recognitions, fortunately, has narration, but it's still tough going. Once I was reading JR on the train and a guy across from me asked if I had read the Recognitions. I told him I had started it (which was true, I had, four years ago, it didn't take back then) and he said "That sounds about right." But this time I stuck with it, in case I ran into that guy again.
But enough about me.
What was the Recognitions about? Basically the life of a talented artist who becomes an art forger and the people in his orbit during his life. But also the plot shoots off in completely different directions and examines the lives of other characters for gigantic sections at a time. It is very well written, full of obscure and popular references to obscure or popular things—fortunately for me there is a very good set of summaries and annotations for the book online. I found myself reading the chapter summaries before and after and during each chapter to make sure I didn't miss anything important and then browsed through the annotations for the translations I might need or to confirm the references I thought I had caught.
When Thomas Pynchon started to be popular and was all withdrawn and mysterious, several a critic suspected Pynchon was an alias of Gaddis's (And Gaddis is also notoriously non-public in his persona). Reading the Recognitions, particularly the opening chapters that tell the tale of the main character's parents' trip by boat to Spain when he was little, I really saw where those suspicious readers were coming from.
I recommend the Recognitions for people who are looking for a good tough read with lots to wring out of every paragraph. I also recommend it for anyone that wants to spend multiple months on a book. Or I do not recommend it to anyone who can't commit fully to only one book for a good long time. And, honestly, who really can do that? Anyway, I'm glad I did. Now that it's on my shelf it's quite the trophy, another nice twelve point buck on the wall in my hunting lodge.