So I finally finished William Gaddis’s “The Recognitions.” Man, was that a long book. More than 950 pages of very small type, characters the narrator doesn’t bother to introduce to the reader by name now and then, and leaps in plot and setting. Much of the dialog was flat-out amazing. There were penetrating lines like this one, from Esther to Wyatt:
You do hate the winter, don’t you. There were no taxicabs in sight, and they walked hurriedly. — ou always look so much colder than other people do.
And hundreds of pages later, Esther again to Wyatt (who has just reappeared):
—And what is it now, this reality you used to talk about, she went on more quietly. — s though you could deny, and have nothing to replace what you take away, as though … Oh yes, zero does not exist, you told me. Zero does not exist! And here I … I watched you turn into no one right here in front of me, and just a … a pose became a life, until you were trying to make negative things do the work of positive ones. And your family and your childhood, and your illness then and studying for the ministry, and … when I married you we used to talk about all that intelligently, and I thought you were outside it, and understood it, but you’re not, you’re not, and you never will be, you never will get out of it, and you never … you never will let yourself be happy. Esther was talking rapidly again, and she paused as though to give effect to the softness of her voice as she went on, though her memory crowded details upon her and it was these she fought. — here are things like joy in this world, there are, there are wonderful things, and there is goodness and kindness, and you shrug your shoulders. And I used to think that was fun, that you understood things so well when you did that, but finally that’s all you can do, isn’t it. Isn’t it.“
And poor Otto, in his sling, pretending to have sold his play:
—Oh, but, I mean, of course I am, I just, everything’s been so sort of … you know, and I, and maybe … someone’s mentioned to you? about my play, I mean? he blurted out. She shook her head. — ell I mean, it’s nothing, nothing really, but …
And there’s a priceless line given to Otto at this same party, on the topic of his play.
—My play, I … Otto commenced.
—Yes, Chrahst, you ought to try selling a battleship.
That’s it for quotes. There’s a ton to unpack theme-wise — original creation; falsehoods — and those will occur to me now and then (particularly if I’m able to find a great essay on the novel). I won’t pretend to have gotten half of Gaddis’s goods in a first reading. But that’s all I’m getting for now.
Oh: There’s a case to be made that the last scene of this epic novel — a last-page last scene — is the greatest and most vivid I’ve ever read.