JR

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

Dalkey Archive Press

Winner of the 1976 National Book Award

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140187076
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/28/1993
  • Series: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 752
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

William Gaddis

William Gaddis (1922-98) stands among the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. The winner of two National Book Awards (for J R [1976] and A Frolic of His Own [1995]), he wrote five novels during his lifetime, including Carpenter’s Gothic (1985), Agapē 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.

Rick Moody is the award-winning author of Black Veil, Demonology, The Diviners, Garden State, The Ice Storm, Purple America, and Right Livelihoods.

Biography

William Gaddis published only four novels in his lifetime, but those four books were influential enough that George Stade, writing in the New York Times Book Review, could dub Gaddis the "presiding genius of post-war American fiction." Though Gaddis is now celebrated as a master of experimental fiction, his work initially met with indifferent or hostile reviews.

Gaddis left Harvard University during his senior year, worked for two years as a fact-checker for the New Yorker, then spent five years traveling through Central America, North Africa and Europe. After returning to the United States in 1951, he wrote The Recognitions, a densely allusive, darkly comic novel centered on the Faustian figure of Wyatt Gwyon, an aspiring painter whose obsession with beauty and order eventually leads to a career as a forger of Flemish masterpieces.

The Recognitions bewildered book critics when it was published in 1955, but it has since come to be viewed as a pivotal work of American literature, one that marks a turning point between the great modernist authors like William Faulkner and postmodernists like Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. Richard Toney described it as "a novel of stunning power, 956 pages of linguistic pyrotechnics and multi-lingual erudition unmatched by any American writer in this century -- perhaps in any century."

Following its markedly unsuccessful publication, Gaddis went to work as a corporate speechwriter, a job he hated. But Gaddis's literary reputation began to grow as fellow novelists discovered and championed The Recognitions, reissued in 1962. Eventually, Gaddis received several grants, which helped him write his second book.

JR, a 726-page novel written almost entirely in dialogue, skewers the business world through the tale of an 11-year-old boy who builds a paper empire of penny stocks from his school phone booth. It won the National Book Award for 1975, thrusting a somewhat reluctant Gaddis into the limelight. "I feel like part of the vanishing breed that thinks a writer should be read and not heard, let alone seen," he said in his acceptance speech for the award.

His next two books also garnered high critical acclaim: Cynthia Ozick, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called Carpenter's Gothic (which weighs in at a mere 262 pages) "an unholy landmark of a novel." Gaddis won a second National Book Award for A Frolic of His Own, which combined Swiftian satire of our litigious culture with deeper meditations on the nature of justice. His final book Agapé Agape, a novel about the history of the piano player, was published after his death in 1998.

Gaddis scholar Steven Moore wrote: "In Carpenter's Gothic, a character speaks of 'books that erode absolute values by asking questions to which they offer no answers.' This is very close to what Gaddis's fiction attempts, and close too to the work of two of the greatest American novelists, Hawthorne and Melville." In the current crop of novelists, writers like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace have carried out their own versions of the literary experiment that so flummoxed Gaddis's critics in 1955.

Gaddis's novels may be less widely read than those of his successors, but they remain compelling for their imaginative reach, sumptuous prose style and mordant wit. Gaddis seems to have known from the beginning that he was writing for a select audience, a recognition signaled at the end of his first book: "He was the only person caught in the collapse, and afterward, most of his work was recovered too, and it is still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played."

Good To Know

After The Recognitions was panned by several critics, the independent publisher Jack Green wrote a 70-page diatribe titled "Fire the Bastards!" which excoriated the book's critics for their factual and interpretive errors. In 1962, Green wrote and paid for a full-page ad in The Village Voice, urging people to buy The Recognitions. Some readers suspected Gaddis had taken out the ad himself, and that Jack Green was a pseudonym.

When Thomas Pynchon's first novel V. was published in 1963, some readers suspected Pynchon was actually William Gaddis, a theory fueled by both writers' reclusiveness. In the mid-1980s, letters signed "Wanda Tinasky" began to appear in local California newspapers. They asserted that Pynchon, Gaddis and Jack Green were all the same person. In 1996, The Letters of Wanda Tinasky were published on the premise that Pynchon wrote them, though Pynchon denied any part in their authorship.

Don Foster, the literary sleuth who identified Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors, started to investigate the Tinasky letters in 1996. Foster eventually identified them as the work of Thomas Hawkins, a Mendocino County writer and fanatic admirer of The Recognitions who had killed his wife and then himself in 1988.

Gaddis enrolled at Harvard College in 1941 and was editor of the famous Harvard Lampoon; but was kicked out in his senior year. According to a Salon article, he was asked to leave “after a run-in with local police.”

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    1. Date of Birth:
      December 29, 1922
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      December 17, 1998
    2. Place of Death:
      East Hampton, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended Harvard University (no degree)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2006

    MacArthur Foundation Genius Pens American Masterpiece Nobody Reads

    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.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2001

    Fantastic

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 10, 2009

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