No other novel I know of catches up so much of contemporary reality, or renders it so exactly, and with such telling detail.
JRby William Gaddis
Winner of the 1976 National Book Award, "J R" is a biting satire about the many ways in which capitalism twists the American spirit into something more dangerous, yet pervasive and unassailable. At the center of the novel is a hilarious eleven year old--J R--who with boyish enthusiasm turns a few basic lessons in capitalist principles, coupled with a young boy's
Winner of the 1976 National Book Award, "J R" is a biting satire about the many ways in which capitalism twists the American spirit into something more dangerous, yet pervasive and unassailable. At the center of the novel is a hilarious eleven year old--J R--who with boyish enthusiasm turns a few basic lessons in capitalist principles, coupled with a young boy's lack of conscience, into a massive and exploitative paper empire. The result is one of the funniest and most disturbing stories ever told about the corruption of the American dream.
Meet the Author
William Gaddis (1922-98) stands among the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. The winner of two National Book Awards (for "J R"  and "A Frolic of His Own" ), he wrote five novels during his lifetime, including "Carpenter's Gothic "(1985), "Agap? Agape" (published posthumously in 2002), and his early masterpiece "The Recognitions" (1955). He is loved and admired for his stylistic innovations, his unforgettable characters, his pervasive humor, and the breadth of his intellect and vision.
- Date of Birth:
- December 29, 1922
- Date of Death:
- December 17, 1998
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- Place of Death:
- East Hampton, New York
- Attended Harvard University (no degree)
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I've 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. Masterpieces exist but America is nearly totally oblivious to the talents of her greatest contemporary writers. Americans can't get enough of their best-selling, empty-headed, sell-out hacks. So, God Bless Penguin for having the good sense to bring to light, even belatedly, this breakthrough literary novel by a supremely gifted writer. 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 an obscure literary novelist worthy of the small but devoted readership of which it has become my privilege to join. I have also read and highly recommend 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 the true genius of Gaddis in JR.
I am glad to see this book back in print, as it is one of my favorite novels of all time. Should be required reading for anyone with a literary degree who ends up working on Wall Street.