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This article is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

The novels of William Gaddis Brian Morton

'He was the only person caught in the collapse, and afterward, most of his work was recovered too, and is still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played.' The 'he' is a character, of course, and the 'work' wholly his. Even so, and despite all warnings to the contrary, it is tempting to find in the closing lines of The Recognitions an ironic foretaste of the book's and William Gaddis's critical fate.

The Recognitions has had more admirers than readers. Like Stein's The Making of Americans, it is a good book to have read. At around a thousand pages, it becomes something of a long-term commitment. Noted with a nervously grudging respect in surveys of post-war American literature, it is almost never, even after thirty years, accorded detailed critical attention. (Academics, needless to say, know better than to put it on a reading list; until recently, when Penguin and 'Authors USA' got behind Gaddis, they would have been hard pressed to find class copies.) Though the inevitable Twayne's United States Authors volume - recognition only that the subject has published some sort of book - is forthcoming, the secondary bibliography is thin indeed, limited to Steven Moore's painstaking Reader's Guide and to a gaggle of explicatory essays in obscure mid-West campus journals. Tony Tanner's short account in his City of Words is still the best general approach to the novel.

The Recognitions is a work that threatens to collapse under ...


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