Monday, May 20, 2013

Letters of William Gaddis

I've been busy reading "The Letters of William Gaddis." I'm really enjoying it. I have the Kindle version, so it's easy to get through a few letters no matter where I might be, either on my Kindle, tablet or phone (isn't technology grand?) I'm having a blast getting a deeper insight into the man himself, the writer who never let anyone in (would Gaddis have approved of a book such as this? Not on your life! He was adamant about keeping his private life private.)

What a complicated person he was. At times he comes across like a self-absorbed, conceited little prick (it should be noted that I'm still reading letters posted from when he was in his twenties. And weren't we all stilll full of ourselves at that age? My wife informs me that at 48, I still am--she's probably right.)

At other times you have to marvel at his fearless tenacity to discover himself. He is constantly on the move--dude makes a nomad look like a slug. He will often get a wild hair, and charge off on some crazy adventure. Most of the time his plans come to nothing, but he never lets that stop him. I would've never had the cajones to do half the things he did: roughing it in the wilds of Mexico, traipsing down to Panama to work on the canal, etc...

Almost all of the letters so far are to his mother. And hardly a letter goes out without him asking her for something (usually money.) We only have the letters he wrote, and none of the ones sent to him, but it doesn't seem she ever denied a request. That woman was a saint! What patience she had with him! So, would he have been able to do all the things he did, have all the adventures that would provide the fodder for the greatest novel ever written (The Recognitions, of course) without her? Not a chance. Much is owed to Edith Gaddis.

One letter in particular hit home with me, the one where he mentions a friend named Bernie. Bernie is trying to write a novel, and WG laments Bernie's lack of talent, even calls him simple-minded. He goes on to state how much of a tragedy it is, how he is such a nice person, but will never be able to fulfill his dream. Bernie and I are kindred spirits, it would seem.


  1. I am having a bit of a reading slump at the moment but have started this. Only just, mind you. Is Bernie merely Gaddis in disguise, like the awful Otto in the Recognitions?

  2. Bernie was a friend from his youth. There's also an Otto, who was the son of a landlady WG was renting a room from. I think he used both to create Recog Otto. You are really going to love this book. Fascinating reading about WG as a young man.

  3. Gaddis: the epitome of a resilient writer. He never quit, no matter the deep discouragement & dissapointments. Loved reading his letters. Better than any possible biography could be. Imagine if The Recognitions had been successful from the start. Would he then have ever had that chip-on-his-shoulder fuel to write J R?

  4. Rique, a review to appear soon? Please? Would love to get yours and Seamus' take on it.

  5. Maybe, but I'm beginning to doubt it! Only if that ungraspable, idiosyncratic something-or-other inside, sparks an angle or idea on how I could at least adequately summarize what seems gargantuan and more complex an amount of material than doing the same for what comprises all his tomes combined -- these amazing correspondences of his, Letters of William Gaddis, that fill the space of only one medium-sized Dalkey Archive volume, yet contain every drop of blood, sweat and marrow that fueled and then formed the vast and richly varied panoramas of his eccentric life -- well then (and only then) I promise you, Bubba, I'll be right on it! ;-)