on October 9, 2002
I made the "mistake" of familiarizing myself with Gaddis' work by first reading The Recognitions about six months ago. Make no mistake - The Recognitions is well worth the effort, once you understand how to read it (i.e. the dialogue and conversational effect and how to interpret who is talking and when, and what is narrative as opposed to dialogue), although toward the end, when Wyatt loses his mind in the monastery, the imagery gets a bit muddled. In any event, as I began reading A Frolic of His Own, I found myself thinking, wow, I should have started with this one, because this is much more accessible than The Recognitions. Of course, I now realize that it is more accessible simply because I had been through the wringer with The Recognitions and not because the style is so much different. Indeed, it is more structured and more coherent, but the same Gaddis black, stinging satire is there in its glory.
An amazing book. Gaddis truly listened to how we speak and interact with each other, because his dialogue is absolutely spot on with how we humans/Americans speak to each other in a familiar manner. While there are no truly sympathetic characters (all are pretentious and selfish in a way we all know far too well), one can't help but feel empathy towards each of them in some sordid way. The plot has been outlined in other reviews, so I won't go there, other than to say that just when you think Gaddis is off on some tangent and you feel a lack of cleverness in having not "got it", he brings it right back around, front and center, although it may not be where you thought it was going to be.
Unlike criticisms of The Recognitions, and even JR, which suggest too much plot, too many charachters, and many loose ends (not necessarily true), this is a tightly, albeit densely, plotted book that is at times laugh out loud funny and other times head in the oven sad. But at all times it challenges and is truly entertaining and wonderful. Maybe the best book I've ever read.
on June 25, 2002
William Gaddis writes like no other author, and his work is refreshing to read in a market that is simply clotted with bad and substandard writers that somehow manage to get published. He is truly original.
The book follows a motley cast of characters, none of them really likeable, but unswervingly human (and might I say American) if a tad over the top in obsessive behavior. But literature should stretch the human condition a bit to make characters interesting, especially when the goal is satire. The main character, Oscar Crease, is involved in a few lawsuits, the main one being a dispute over a play he wrote that may or may not have been stolen for a big budget Hollywood film.
I am truly not worthy to try to discuss the myriad facets of law, philosophy, literary value, and general twists the book takes, but I will say on finishing this novel I was consistently amazed at how Gaddis fills the characters with depth and turns the story in new ways.
If you haven't gleaned it already from the other reviews, Gaddis writes in a style that is almost all dialogue. Whatever is not dialogue turns into a kind of stream of consciousness prose that takes us from one scene into another, and really doesn't do more to describe action than what the dialogue already does. There are no quotation marks, no "he said's" or "she said's", and no identification of characters except occasional name dropping--you have to know who is speaking through the mannerism and word choice. And really, it only takes about 20 pages to get into the swing of things, and when you start reading it as though you were in the middle of the conversation the book really flows.
Also, Gaddis throws in some legal briefs, a couple of acts of a play, and a deposition--but don't be scared off by the legal jargon and change of style, because when you stick with it you realize in the middle of these events you are getting a glimpse into the ridiculousness of the whole issue and you can see the true humor of the situations.
Highly recommended if you like some originality and unique qualities to your literature. Plus it's just genuinely interesting and funny.
on August 20, 2001
This book, like Gaddis' other masterpiece, JR, made me repeatedly laugh out loud. While Gaddis is brilliant and innovative, the really important thing is that his best novels -- of which this is one -- are great fun to read. As for the reviewers who complain "why doesn't he use quotation marks?"; the answer is because the book wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. Enjoying Gaddis comes from going with the frenetic flow of his rhythms. The reviewer who finds it "annoying" that characters keep interrupting each other is, with all due respect, missing the point. What's brilliant, and fun, about Gaddis, is the way the cumulative effect of those interruptions mirrors the sensation of certain real-life conversations. If you read a transcription of a spirited debate at a family dinner, or a tense business meeting, or whatever, you won't find many complete sentences. What you'll find is a collection of false starts, interruptions, and apparent non-sequiturs that resemble Gaddis' prose. In my experience, Gaddis's books are the type to which you need to surrender your consciousness and detachment to really enjoy them. To a certain extent, we've all been taught that to be truly intelligent or sophisticated readers, we need to hold part of our mind back to remain "critical" and to analyze the author's technique, and our own reactions, as we read. But if you read Gaddis while carefully searching for his "tricks" or "methods" and trying to discern the key to his authorial voice, you're doing yourself a disservice. It's all about immersion. If you just go with the flow, I don't think it's nearly as "difficult" as many people suggest, and it's as rewarding as reading can be.
on July 26, 1999
I am always amused when someone posts a review implying that lawyers should not read a book because it's critical of them and they presumably wouldn't like it (see below). To the contrary, we're not all vain, ignorant barbarians. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and particularly the scathing satire directed at certain members of my chosen profession. I can assure you based upon my several years of private practice that, technical quibbles aside (who honestly cares if Gaddis didn't understand preemption?), this book is 100% dead on accurate, down to the very smallest detail, such as the covertly conniving lawyer sending the "hideous" but "expensive" potted amarylis to Christina. It is pleasurable to see my compatriots (and to a certain extent, myself) stripped of their pompous finery in such a masterful manner. It is certainly at times sobering, but meaningfully and necessarily so. And the entire book was far from a chore to read, but one of the most original, brilliantly designed novels I have ever read. It is told in a stream of consciousness style that takes some getting used to, perhaps, but is positively addictive once you get the hang of it. And the interpolation of satirical legal opinions and a deposition transcript into the novel is an original touch. Judge Crease's first "Spot" opinion is an absolute howl (no pun intended). All in all, a complex, engrossing, enriching experience.
on February 21, 1997
Let me first toss the caveat that I'm already convinced that Mr. Gaddis is the best American writer of the 20th century, one who has never forsaken his style or his ambition in order to achieve mass "accessibility" (what a terrible measure of a novel's worth). Yet, if forced to rank his works in these terms, I'd say that Frolic is the second least accessible novel of his, right behind the terror which is JR (no chapter breaks, almost no authorial intrusion (i.e. help), and everything takes place in real linear time).
Frolic seems unforgiving at first, as it pours out in ranting dialogue and thick daunting legalese. But when it begins to take shape, it comes across as wonderfully imaginative without ever sounding contrived (which is why I think it resonated so much with lawyers and lovers of satire: no matter how convoluted the lawsuits become, one rarely, if ever, is struck by the notion, "Nahh, this could never happen." Because this is a very fair representation of the circus that the civil courts in this country have become.
The Dennis Miller of complex modern fiction, William Gaddis, like Joyce or Pynchon, is the kind of writer that you owe it to yourself to at least try to read. Remember, very few dug Melville in his time, while even fewer deserve to be compared to him. Gaddis is most definitely worthy of that comparison.
on May 17, 1997
If you've ever read "The Recognitions," then I'm pretty sure that you're sure that Gaddis is brilliant, and if anything worthy of being read as he is one of the preminent American scribes of our century. Like Pynchon, Gaddis takes long journeys that are wicked and iconoclastic. Both set their teeth into the American mindset with very hardhitting insight and verve. But they are American, so I really doubt the reader who shelled out the pounds could have ever been into it in the first place. After all, what do people who eat loony cows and whose judges wear wigs know about late 20th century Americana in the first place? This book is excellent
on May 21, 1998
To have followed Gaddis from his "Recognitions", "JR" and now this novel has been a sheer treat. Surely THE post-war American novelist and a wonderful lead back to Joyce. "Frolic" is highly accessible if you relax and give it a chance. Wonderfully funny, moving and with some of the finest insights into the imperfect American Dream. For those who say Gaddis has not been given due Recognition, be patient, he will be...one day. We all forget the small men who are the critics but we remember Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Joyce, Faulkner...Gaddis. Life is short, but that of art, especially great art, is long.
on September 25, 1996
Another reviewer says the book "stank," after reading
only 50 pages. I think the better gramamr is "stunk,"
and I think he should have persevered past 50 pages.
The writing style is difficult (no punctuation, never
tells you who is speaking), but once you get the sense
of what is going on the book gets very, very funny.
Perhaps lawyers can appreciate the book more; perhaps
the best target audience is lawyers who have little use
for a lot of what goes on in the profession. But litigation
is where it's at in the 90s, and this book says it all
on June 20, 1998
I'm afraid I had to offer my own review after being appalled that other customers had rated this novel beneath the five stars its due. While others bring Pynchon's name to the top of the list, I don't believe it possible to deny Gaddis' status as the top author in American letters. Brilliantly innovative, with a minute eye for both the sublime and the mundane, and the threads which bind the two in existence, this book is a must read. And if you read it twice, perhaps you'll come away chuckling at the realization of the true measure of the frolic.
on June 18, 1997
Despite the bizarre critical marginalisation of his novels William Gaddis is THE central writer of the second half of the twentieth century, and the most impressive technical innovator since Joyce. Anyone who does not read his novels will have a radically distorted conception of how the postmodern novel developed from Joyce and Proust, and will probably think that a book like V (probably the best Gaddis-derived novel of 1963) was radically derivative.
And, by the way, Gaddis did read Joyce.