We'd Better Recognize

I’ve reached page 200 of William Gaddis’s The Recognitions — only 750 pages to go. I really liked his “Carpenter’s Gothic,” and I’ve had Recognitions on the mental list for a few years. I moved it to the front of a real list  after seeing it again on one of those writers’ must-read lists – in this case William Gass’s 1991 booklet / exhibition “A Temple of Texts: 50 Literary Pillars.”

(Sidenote: Last night I met Mr. Gass, an enormously important writer for me these last few years, at a reading here in St. Louis. He said that his next book of essays is currently at Knopf and should be out at some point; it will include a revisited “Temple of Texts,” as well as, I was happy to hear, the remarkable Lannan Foundation reading he gave to an audience late last year. I highly, highly recommend listening to the 80-year-old Gass give this wise, funny and challenging recap of his life as a writer.)

But back to Gaddis, whom Gass has championed and whose book in question he introduces. The novel is quite great so far. A few passages:

(For the first time in months) he put his arm around her; but his hand, reaching her shoulder, did not close upon it, only rested there. They swayed a little, standing in the doorway, still holding each other together in a way of holding each other back: they still waited, being moved over the surface of time like two swells upon the sea, one so close upon the other that neither can reach a peak and break, until both, unrealized, come in to shatter coincidentally upon the shore. (109)

That was Wyatt and Esther. This is Otto and Esther:

He smiled, and leaned toward her. But his smile made hers suddenly the less real, less a smile as its life drained from behind it while the smile remained fixed on her lips; then her lips opened again and it disappeared. (127-128)

If the rest of the novel is this great, it will surely be one of those Big Books I long remember reading for the first time.