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Gaddis, William

(US 1922–98)

Gaddis graduated from Harvard University, where he developed his satirical eye by writing for the college magazine, Lampoon. His work is generally concerned with revealing fakery, pomposity, and self-deception. Largely self-exiled from the world of commercial publishing, Gaddis enjoyed an underground reputation as a reclusive genius. His most accessible book is Carpenter's Gothic (1985), a dark, paranoid story set in a refurbished wood-frame house. The twisting plot involves many recognizable types, such as crooked capitalists, religious fundamentalists, and rogue CIA agents. Gaddis's skilful ear for recording the rhythms of American speech is most in evidence here. The two books that made Gaddis a critical success are long and complex. The first novel he published, The Recognitions (1955), concerns questions of originality and fakery, involving the pursuit of counterfeiters in the worlds of currency and high art. The irony in the book makes it at once playfully comic and philosophically challenging. Gaddis's second novel, JR (1975), appeared twenty years later. It tells the story of a young boy who becomes a financial wizard and wreaks havoc on those around him. These two long novels are reminiscent, in their complexity, of James Joyce's Ulysses.

John Irving, Thomas Pynchon, Stanley Elkin  CM

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Fl-Ha)