The Paris Review has published Joy Williams’s introduction to NYRB’s forthcoming edition of William Gaddis’s masterpiece satire of American capitalism, J R. Williams’s review is heavy on citation from Gaddis’s letters, William Gass’s essay “Mr. Gaddis and His Goddamn Books,” and J R itself. I like this bit:
In 1956, nineteen years before the publication of this second novel, Mr. Gaddis wrote a registered letter to himself to protect his idea for it from copyright infringement:
In very brief it is this; a young boy, ten or eleven or so years of age ‘goes into business’ and makes a business fortune by developing and following through the basically very simple procedures needed to assemble extensive financial interests, to build a ‘big business’ in a system of comparative free enterprise employing the numerous (again basically simply encouragements (as tax benefits &c) which are so prominent in the business world of America today …
This boy (named here ‘J.R’) employs as a ‘front man’ to handle matters, the press &c, a young man innocent in matters of money and business whose name (which I got in a dream) is Bast. Other characters include Bast’s two aunts, the heads of companies which JR takes over, his board of directors, figures in a syndicate which fights his company for control in a stockholder’s battle, charity heads to whom his company gives money, &c.
This book is projected as essentially a satire on business and money matters as they occur and are handled here in America today; and on the people who handle them; it is also a morality study of a straightforward boy reared in our culture, of a young man with an artist’s conscience, and of the figures who surround them in such a competitive and material economy as ours. The book just now is provisionally entitled ‘SENSATION’ and ‘J.R.’
What a surprisingly unpromising précis!
I hope to have something forthcoming on this new edition of J R. In the meantime, here’s a link to the last thing I wrote about it, back in 2016, and this excerpt from that thing:
Only a handful of novels are so perfectly simultaneously comic and tragic. Moby-Dick? Yes. Gravity’s Rainbow? Absolutely. (G R and J R, a duo published two years apart, spiritual twins, massive American novels that maybe America hardly deserves (or, rather: theses novels were/are totally the critique America deserves). I guess maybe what I’m saying is J R is the Great American Novel to Come (The Recognitions is perhaps overpraised and certainly not Gaddis’s best novel; J R is. The zeitgeist has been caught up to J R, the culture should (will) catch up).
And here is my favorite picture of Gaddis: