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J R [Paperback]

William Gaddis
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Oct. 12 1975
Au centre de ce conte d'un comique colossal sur la libre entreprise se tient JR, un gamin de onze ans aux baskets élimées devenu, incognito, un empereur du capitalisme. Obsédé par l'argent, monomane du dollar, acharné du billet vert, JR est la victime tragi-comique de son propre mythe, qui est aussi celui de l'Amérique. Incontournable, inclassable, JR est le chef-d'œuvre de William Gaddis. Déferlante de mots, oscillant sans choisir entre bouffonnerie et satire, cette fable géante et protéiforme possède le coffre, la force et la férocité des modèles littéraires dont on ne finit jamais d'hériter.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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About the Author

William Gaddis est né à New York en 1922. Boursier de la Fondation Rockefeller, de la Fondation Guggenheim, lauréat du prix MacArthur, Membre de l'Académie et de l'Institut des Arts et Lettres Américains, il a publié Les Reconnaissances (Gallimard, 1973), JR, National Book Award (Feux croisés, 1993), Gothique Charpentier (Christian Bourgois, 1988). Il a reçu une deuxième fois, en 1994, le prestigieux National Book Award pour ce roman, Le dernier acte. Depuis sa mort en 1998, plusieurs rééditions de ses œuvres ont été réalisées, notamment en Feux croisés, JR et Agonie d'Agapè (2011, 2012). --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars `Who made the rules?' June 25 2012
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is William Gaddis's second novel, a huge book of over 700 pages, a story told mostly through dialogue. The cacophony of voices contained in JR presents a brilliant satire on corporate America.

`That's what a game is, if there weren't any rules there wouldn't be any game, now sit up.'

JR Vansant is an eleven year old schoolboy who manages to build an enormous economic empire - using his school's public phone booth. JR's empire touches on everyone in the novel and most of them become entangled in it: especially as the paper that documents JR's empire needs to be stored. Everyone spends a great deal of their time thinking or dreaming about money: desiring money; obtaining money and worrying about a lack of money. Money is no longer simply a medium of exchange, in a world in which almost every aspect of life and feeling is commodified, money is an object of desire in its own right. JR's empire grows like a particularly aggressive form of cancer, the size and spread of which becomes apparent to the reader through the conversations, letters and telephone calls that make up the bulk of the novel.

`Is it my fault if I do something first which if I don't do it somebody else is going to do it anyway?'

JR is surrounded by musicians, teachers, and writers - but we see little that is positive or truly creative in their influence. Creativity is subservient to money; aesthetic values have no place in a world where everything is assigned a monetary value. Can such a world be sustained? Should it be? Surely there is a place for Edward Bast? And for Wagner? Both Nordic gods and stock markets can crash. The glory of the gods is only an illusion.

I have read this novel once, and found it both energising and exhausting.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
76 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great American novel April 14 2000
By Richard A. Ellis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Gaddis' 'JR' has my nomination for the best American novel of the last half of the 20th century. It is also one of the two or three funniest American novels I can remember reading, right up there with 'Lolita'. It is composed entirely in dialogue, without any breaks at all, and it is sometimes difficult to tell who is talking, but once into the rhythm of the talk, it becomes clearer. It also helps to have an MBA or some business background, as the business deals it describes, to hilarious effect, are sometimes very intricate. It is the story of an 11-year old school kid wheeler-dealer who builds a gigantic paper empire 'bubble' from some army surplus items ordered from a comic book. He manages to involve various adults, including his teacher, in his capitalist schemes. It is a savage and entirely prescient view of America, foreseeing much of the present stock market madness (and it fact its comic hyperbole does not seem so wild now in light of our own real world stock market 'irrational exuberence'). It is unequalled as a depiction of the warping influences in people's lives caused by the capitalist ethic, where serious artists are devalued by the dictates of the market. If you enjoy Pynchon, Barth, or Joseph McElroy (another undeservedly unknown American writer) you will like Gaddis. This is a book to come back to again---read it now before our stock market bubble bursts!
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JR Sept. 28 2004
By Damian Kelleher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
On a school excursion to New York, a small group of eleven year old children are introduced to the American way of life. A hurried business man, constantly on the phone or bothered by his secretary, gives a hasty explanation of the stock market, and what it means to 'purchase a piece of America'. The children are suitably awed, especially when their excursion moves from theory to practise with the purchase of one stock from a communal kitty.

One child, JR, is particularly enamoured with the whole process. He asks complicated questions about futures, buybacks, depreciations, interest, tax write-offs and more, flustering and intriguing the man in charge of the tour around the company. JR is so curious, in fact, that upon arriving home, he begins to study and plan ways to make his piece of America work for him.

He meets up with Edward Bast, a struggling composer, and they strike a deal. JR will be the thinking man of the operation, Bast - as an adult - will be the face of the company. Soon, Bast is traveling back and forth from paper mill to Indian reserve to banquet to meeting room as JR creates an empire from 'worthless' stock and inventory obtained through mail order and telephone deals.

JR is written almost entirely in dialogue. People speak, radios chatter, conversations begin and end and trail off, some in the main focus of the novel, such as Rhoda and Bast's discussions in the increasingly cluttered apartment he lives in, some off to the side, little snippets finding their way into the book, shedding light on minor characters or putting a different perspective on what is currently happening. Gaddis, as always, writes flawless dialogue that in no way reads like the 'perfect' diction of most novels, instead having trailing sentences, unfinished words and thoughts, and poor punctuation. When speaking, a character is almost never identified, but through Gaddis' grasp of speech, it is generally pretty easy to tell who is who and what is going on. There are large paragraphs of description scattered about, but these generally serve as bookends to conversations between characters.

The novel JR is an extremely interesting look at the world of finance. Seen through the eyes of the oblivious musician Bast, we are horrified as JR's empire grows and grows, always obeying the law, always being correct and accurate, but at the same time, perverting the true spirit of business and money. Perhaps because he is eleven, JR is unable to see the companies he buys, sells, underwrites and reconstructs as actual tangible realities, the employees are little more than vast bottomless money pits in terms of salaries to him, and nothing is sacred. He has no understanding of the realities of what he is accomplishing, all he is concerned with is, 'If you are going to play, play to win.'
100 of 112 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece? Don't think in those terms July 4 2002
By Jeff Laing - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'd suggest to anyone reading this "because its a masterpiece", to get over it. That's no reason to read, or worse, recommend a book. Read it because you want to try out Gaddis' style which is quite a change from the norm.
The reviewer who equated it to listening to the radio is pretty close, in my opinion, although I feel its more like listening to other people talking on the train (or perhaps watching a Robert Altman movie with a blindfold on) in that conversations can be broken off just when you think they are getting interesting.
Reading Gaddis can be like watching television, with someone else holding the remote. If you can't watch movies that way, you'll hate this book.
If you haven't read any Gaddis, read "A Frolic of His Own" first - I was astonished at the way he managed to manipulate my impressions of people solely on the way he let me hear them talk, and then as time went on, I discovered that I actually quite liked those despicable characters after all - and the beating the legal profession gets is far easier to understand (and sympathise with) than the capitalists in JR.
If you find Frolic heavy going, you probably won't like JR. If you find JR heavy going, don't touch The Recognitions. The only reason I bothered with JR, after reading Recognitions, was because I had read Frolic first.
Don't read JR because you're expecting a savage attack on capitalism, although it is that. Don't read it because you want to see how schools are becoming profit-centers first, and educators second, although it shows that. Don't read it because someone said its a picture of an America that was (is?), although perhaps it is.
Read it because its a good book. Difficult to read, sure, especially for the TV Guide generation, but worth it in the end, and very funny especially to those of us with a cynical bent.
"... because even if we can't um, if we can't rise to his level, no at least we can, we can drag him down to ours ..."
-- Bast, on humanizing Mozart (I think it was, anyway ;-)
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recognize a Work of Real Genius? May 28 2004
By Wordsworth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have long been struck by the irony that the most avid readers of literary novels seem to have been virtually ignored by American publishers who cater to the mainstream. Sad to say but American publishing's mindless fixation with mediocre mainstream fiction has had an obliterating effect on American literary culture. So God Bless Penguin for having the good sense to bring to light, even belatedly, this breakthrough literary novel by a supremely gifted writer. I haven't read a more challenging novel by such a first-rate mind in ages. The style of the novel is based upon stream-of-voice: it's akin to walking down 5th Avenue and overhearing parts of conversations of passersby. The net effect is that the reader is compelled to become engaged by virtue of the context, style and story line of unidentified speakers until their voices become familiar. Until the reader succeeds in identifying the voices, the novel seems absurdly abstract. Like many great 20th century novels JR does appear incomprehensible at the outset until the reader discovers a roadmap to navigate this vast stream of voices. If life is order disguised as chaos, then JR is the very height of verisimilitude as there is a reality inherent in this novel that is breakthrough by virute of its style and intricately woven in its storyline. This stream-of-voice in a sense captures the fine art of the ancient oral tradition of story-telling starting with Homer. Jose Saramago in Blindness experimented in a similar way in his novel of discovery and so does Joyce in Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. JR is an important novel by a relatively obscure literary novelist worthy of the small but devoted readership of which it has become my privilege to join. In fact, I have just begun to read The Recognitions. If you are a serious reader of literary novels, then you owe it to yourself to read Gaddis. His novels are a national treasure: one only hopes that some day soon the nation will properly recognize it.
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The I on the Dollar Bill Oct. 11 1998
By kernmorrkern@earthlink.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A masterful foray into what makes American great (and grate), by a novelist who has amply earned his stripes as an underappreciated, even obscure presence in American literature. People often give up on "JR"--both letters capital--because this horrifyingly funny book requires that you spend time learning how to read it, all in the name of intensifying your reading experience. Most of "JR" is dialogue; there are no chapter or section breaks to speak of; speakers are only rarely identified. Still, the book sings, and the overall power of its chorus obscures the fact that you don't always know who the soloists are. In simple terms, it is a book about counterfeiting that pretends to be a host of other things--as of course it should. And Enormous and complex pleasures await readers new to Gaddis. Readers wanting more information about this wonderful novelist would be well-advised to investigate Steven Moore's book on Gaddis for Twayne Publishers, entitled simply "William Gaddis." Moore makes Gaddis's plenty seem manageable, and he writes extraordinarily beautiful criticism. While I cannot speak to this novel's greatness, and wouldn't want to, I can say that of the hundreds of novels I have read down the years, this is my favorite, as well as the second-funniest book to which I have been privy.
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