Pros: Tightly constructed with gems throughout.
Cons: Kinda wish it was longer
Anyone who is a fan of William Gaddis probably already has this book, so this review is written with the person unfamiliar with Gaddis. Also, for the person who is interested in William Gaddis but perhaps not willing to tackle his other lengthy books, this may encourage you to pick this one up. I have the hardcover.
This is a tightly constructed short novel (less than 100 pages). The unnamed narrator is speaking in a nonstop dialogue, a style without reference points that unnerves some readers. It is, however, very enjoyable once you get in to the rhythm of it. Just start reading and don't worry about trying to understand or comprehend exactly what you read. Like when listening to a another person speak, you don't always know where they are going, they sometimes say things they don't mean, false starts, mis-statements... You wait and it works out.
The "plot" such as it is, if a man with an illness struggling to finish a book on mechanization in the arts, a project he has been working on . . . forever (as was William Gaddis).
Just reading through the book you will encounter gems.
On page 12 you get one of my favorites,
"...I can never find anything in this mess never get it sorted out, never get it in any kind of order but that's what it's all about in the first place isn't it? Get things in order that's half the battle in fact it is the battle, organize what's essential and throw the rest of it . . . ."
There are numerous references to other works of art, the NY Times, the Pulitzer Prize, and many other subjects for the narrator to discuss. He references philosophers and other scholars who have commented on the art/technology idea. He laments episodes like Nietzsche's sister taking advantage of his loss of sanity to market him in her salon, and her power grab after his death to gain control of his works and perverting them to make a buck.
On America's fascination with Money, page 9-10:
"...what we're really besotted by is people making millions, making billions from computer chips computer circuitry computer programs one man making thirty billion dollars in a year because that's what we've always been besotted by . . . [.] What America's all about, what it's always been about, thirty billion dollars
On prizes in the arts he notes on page 14 ...you get your poets composing to please the bad taste of their judges . . . "
Overall the book comments on what mechanization has done to the arts, the reproduction of art, taking it away from the artist who creates and marketing it for consumption as a product. The starting point for Gaddis is the player piano. He complains of how technology has made us into passive consumers of "art", with the market driving consumption such that we are left with what sells, which is often mediocre work. This point reminds of an episode of "Third Rock from the Sun" when the aliens wanting to be average try to transform themselves into what an average American is: So we get Dick responding to a question on how he liked the movie they just saw: "It's the Number One movie in America!" -- yes, but what did you think? "All of America loves it, that's good enough for me!"
Well, read this for a break from the mediocre and enjoy! Then on to the Recognitions, JR, Frolic of his Own, and Carpenter's Gothic for more Gaddis.