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J R J R is the long awaited novel from William Gaddis author of The Recognitions that tremendous book which in the twenty years since its publication has come to be acknowledged as an American masterpiece And J R is a book of comparable magnitude substance and humor a rushing raucous look at money and its influence at love and its absence at success and its failures in the magnificently orchestrated circus of all its larger and smaller than life characters; a frantic forlorn comedy about who uses and misuses whomAt the center J R ambitious sixth grader in torn sneakers bred on the challenge of free enterprise and fired by heady mail order promises of success His teachers would rather be elsewhere his principal doubles as a bank president his Long Island classroom mirrors the world he sees around him a world of public relations and private betrayals where everything and everyone wears a price tag a world of deals where honesty is no substitute for experience and the letter of the law flouts its spirit at every turn Operating from the remote anonymity of phone booths and the local post office with beachheads in a seedy New York cafeteria and a catastrophic carton crammed tenement on East 96th Street J R parlays a deal for thousands of surplus Navy picnic forks through penny stock flyers and a distant textile mill bankruptcy into a nationwide hydra headed family of companiesThe J R Corp and its Boss engulf brokers lawyers Congressmen disaffected school teachers and disenfranchised Indians drunks divorcées second hand generals and a fledgling composer hopelessly entangled in a nightmare marriage of business and the arts Their bullish ventures shaky mineral claims and gas leases cost plus defense contracts a string of nursing homes cum funeral parlors a formula for frozen music burgeon into a paper empire ranging from timber to textiles from matchbooks to legalized marijuana from prostheses to publishing inadvertently crushing hopes careers an entire town on a collision course with the bigger world the pragmatic Real World where the business of America is business where the stock market exists as a convenience and the tax laws make some people eual than others the world that makes the rules because it plays to win and plays for keepsAbsurdly logical mercilessly real gathering its own tumultuous momentum for the ultimate brush with commodity trading when the drop in pork belly futures masks the crumbling of our own J R captures the reader in the cacophony of voices that revolves around this young captive of his own myths voices that dominate the book talking to each other at each other into phones on intercoms from TV screens and radios a vast mosaic of sound that sweeps the reader into the relentless real time of spoken words in a way unprecedented in modern fiction The disturbing clarity with which this finished writer captures the ways in which we deal dissemble stumble through our words through our lives while the real plans are being made elsewhere makes J R the extraordinary novel that it is From the first edition dustjacket Well he of course he did yes I because it's one place it's the one place an idea can be left here you can walk out and close the door and leave it here unfinished the most the wildest secret fantasy and it stays on here by itself in that balance between the balance between destruction and and realization untilTalking day to night Barbie power suits Nine to five to pour a cup of rat poison in your kid's cup of ambition I don't understand money except that I don't have any I don't understand the current economic crisis except that money is printed and not everyone agree it has value In God We Trust and some fine print I was too dumb to read first before I signed up for this mess I was almost jealous of the idiot savant JR the testicular character I guess he's an idiot savant falling ass backwards into things like Kramer on Seinfeld Hiring four star generals for his board of directors? It seems like these guys with money do that thing so this is my cruder copy of that thing He would tell Mr Bast he was doing it all for him Look this is the heart we had to make in class yeah? No one ask any uestions don't look down economics He will no doubt fare better in the world than I ever could I'm the unpopular fat cheerleader at the bottom of the pyramid scheme But then I don't want to wonder about how there is a millionaire for everything either I snapped out of my life failing feeling I probably shouldn't admit to JR looking like he knew what he was doing envy I get so scared some days over bills that a little of JR's blindness would probably help me sleep betterI identified with Amy in the café when she snaps over picking on the little old man who runs the place who tries so hard Why does it have to be that way? Those who try so hard anyway are my heroes It's really hard JR is about trying hard when you are in the suit that is too big or too small for you You're wife left you You're tired of hearing about how your husband could have been everything that he needed to want to be when he grew up if he only didn't have a wife and kid to take care of It's not losing your soul when you have to try so damned hard all of the time These people come into your home and they measure your backyard for their new thing they want to build over you You work all of the time as you're working Nothing is free I don't want to be stepped on like a consumed bag of Wise potato chips hopping with flavor I didn't want to be a standardized test Make up the music in your head as you're working Hug JR to your chest when he thinks there are stuffed people in the natural history museum JR had a lot of heart I put up off reading this book for a long time because I thought it was going to be a satire about the money obsessed culture It's about not burning in the oven with your bills you're too afraid to open I was moved by the effort The real work not the making others money work for you I live with them on the bottom of the pyramid I had a lot to say in my head but I am really tired It took me months to read JR because I haven't been sleeping enough for a long long time It was my comfort to read a little every morning before having to go to work again A kind of sanity valve Someone in the crowd to say This shit is insane and not pretend that it's not all a bunch of made up shit I don't only mean the money shit Trying to get along with anything at all It is all just a bunch of made up stuff right? Can't it be about than making it through the day I miss my JR ritual and they gaped obediently at the bird dropping coursing down that weathered angel’s cheek until the light changed and released them across Broadway and down Wall in disheveled Indian file staggered seriatim by a stench rising from the sidewalk grating at No 11 until George Washington’s extended hand flung their attention fragmented round the corner into Broad where the lofty pediment at No 20 threatened to spill its stone comedy of naked labor yoked high above their heads to the lively dominion seething within buffeted by the anxiety of lifetimes’ savings adrift in windbreakers and flowered hats towards the visitors’ gallery where football field hyperbole addressed them in a voice strategically boxed along the rail This 700 page novel by William Gaddis 1922 1998 is a splendid work of literature And in case you’re wondering about the title JR is the name of one of the main characters a grungy 12 year old boy who happens to be a financial genius working his money magic from a public telephone booth in a hallway at his school An alternate meaning of the two huge letters on the book’s cover could be ‘Jabbering Ruck’ since the novel is mostly dialogue and make no mistake every single person – down on their luck men flower loving women corporate business types school administrators ticket takers school kids old ladies – do not possess the patience or capacity to hear one another out Nearly every sentence in the entire novel is cut off before the sentence is completed And eually telling about American culture everybody stops talking mid sentence to answer the phone Interruption as a mode of communicationThere is a uote cited in the middle of the novel ‘That a work of art has a beginning middle and end life is all middle’ Curiously from the very first page to the last page I had the distinct feeling I was in the middle of Gaddis’s novel and for good reason there are no chapter breaks nor scene demarcations the dialogue has no character attributions that is there are no he said she said Tom said Amy said Dialogue and descriptions action and interruptions connections and misconnection intimacies and alienation are part of one unending literary gush – novel reading as three weeks of ultimate extreme rafting down white water rapids Do they pass out awards for finishing JR? They shouldAnd man o’ man what a novel grand in scope sweeping social commentary satire dark humor yes be prepared to laugh out loud a few times on every page as Gaddis writes about multiple aspects of the American dream and American nightmare and everything in between – business commerce education government sex love marriage divorce vision literature art music to name just a dozen – and with some of the most memorable characters you will ever encounter However I can see where Jonathan Franzen and other literary types judge JR a difficult book But from my own experience once you follow Gaddis’s pace and rhythm the language is uite engaging and not at all overwhelming Here is a snatch of dialogue where an old aunt explains some family history to a visiting lawyer“Well Father was just sixteen years old As I say Ira Cobb owned him some money It was for work that Father had done probably repairing some farm machinery Father was always good with his hands And then this problem came up over money instead of paying Father Ira gave him an old violin and he took it down to the barn to try to learn to play it Well his father heard it and went right down and broke the violin over Father’s head We were a uaker family after all where you just didn’t do things that didn’t pay”How about that for insight into the culture? A young boy wants to play violin instead of fixing farm machinery or dealing in money Well whack take that kid Get back to work so you can hand me some money Bulls eye Mr Gaddis And heaven help those adults who don't grow out of wanting to play music or paint pictures or write books Darn why don't they really grow up and get a real job and do something useful so they can make some serious money?One of my favorite characters is Whiteback the school principal who speaks pure Buffoon ese My guess is Gaddiss had great fun including Whiteback I love the fact Whiteback displays his Horatio Alger award and 56 honorary degrees on his wall 56 Here is Whiteback meeting with Dan one of the school testers and a Major Hyde a corporate military type pushing his company’s agenda on the school At one point in the conversation Whiteback pontificates on the justification of monies being given his school for standardized testing“Right Dan the norm in each case supporting or we might say being supported substantiated that is to say by an overall norm so that in other words in terms of the testing the norm comes out as the norm or we have no norm to test against right? So that presented in these terms the euipment can be shown to justify itself in budgetary terms that is to say would you agree Major? I’ll say one thing Dan if you can present it at the budget meeting the way Whiteback’s just presented it here no one will dare to argue with you “What a scream No joke no one will argue How do you argue with blustering sophistic double speak? Language as an administrate cover up Ironically JR was published during the Watergate eraIn one scene we have Jack Gibbs making his entrance into a ramshackle crumbling apartment bottle in hand to join his buddy Through Gibbs's rant Gaddis gives us the myth of the American writerartist – the surly gruff liuor fueled poetic perceptive outsider shooting holes through all the hypocrisy shallowness stupidity self righteousness and insensitivity of modern American life It is as if the spirits of Henry Miller Jackson Pollock Charles Bukowski and other American tough guy writers and artists loom over Gibb’s shoulder; matter of fact one could take the words of Gibb’s rant and easily transpose them into a number of Bukowski style poems My sense is Gaddis also sees these looming spirits and knows the downside of the myth What real freedom is there when one is tied to the scotch bottle and crusty hard boiled cynicism? But then again perhaps Gaddis detects some keen wisdom in a crusty cynicism after all his novel depicts how modern American cultural fuels one dimensionality and a constriction of choice where people are forced to live in a world constantly bombarded by noise tawdriness commercialism land destruction cesspools and intrusive gadgetsJR is a challenging book but a book well worth the effort And even if they don’t give you an award for finishing at least you can tell your friends you made it to the end 1Trying to make sense of corporate America is like trying to make sense of Beckett Wait this was a bad year when you made 5% than last year which was a good year? Why are they waiting for some dude who never shows up? Why doesn't he just get out of the pile of pig shit?I hate capitalism I abhor it I don't have a better idea for how things could run but I know that there is something fundamentally wrong with it Corporate America knows there is something fundamentally wrong with it too that is why they play their game from a socialist standpoint; if the game were truly played fair most of them wouldn't stand a chance of surviving America would be a vast wasteland of destruction with just a few having won everything They would be the emperors of a big pile of shit Hooray for themFortunately laws are in place that let lots of people people rule over their own little piles of shitBefore I even knew about the whole corporate take over bullshit with Barnes and Noble I had dreams about the store turning into a fucking supermarket In my dreams I yell and scream that this is all bullshit we are a bookstore not a fucking supermarket that there is to the business than just making the most possible money In my dreams I'm a troublemaker who people get angry at and then ignore while I throw temper tantrums Now there is a guy who runs supermarkets trying to buy the company and institute policies favorable to the shareholders Art and making conditions that are fiscally favorable to those greedy idiot children that go buy the name of shareholders do not go hand in hand Actually they are antagonistic to one another As is seen in JR 2 JR is now part of the holy trinity of novels The father Gravity's Rainbow the son JR and the holy spirit Infinite Jest Feel free to move these around arguments can be made for any of the books to occupy any of the spaces JR is not uite as engaging as Gaddis's first novel The Recognitions but it's a cohesive novel I mentioned in my review for the earlier novel that it felt like it was straddling the line between the moderns and the post moderns this is such bullshit really how is Joyce any less of a post modernist than most of the pomo authors? High Modernism and post modernism are the same shit but whatever this makes sense if you don't over think it and by this I mean my argument about Gaddis you need to over think the modernism is post modernism thing The straddling of The Recognitions gave the text an interesting tension It was almost like Gaddis was afraid to really let go and let the novel go where it wanted to go He no longer has that problem in JR I don't know if it is because writers like Pynchon Coover and Barth had staked out some of the territory for him or if he just grew comfortable angry something in the twenty years he hid from writing novels in corporate America but whatever happened he produced a capital em fucking Masterpiece 3 A caveat While the book is a capital em fucking Masterpiece I do not recommend you read it Seriously I'm telling you don't read it or if you do decide on your own to read it Don't let anything I say influence you to read it If you do let anything I say influence you to read it and you hate the book I don't want to hear about it I'll just tell you I told you so And then I'll tell you that it is one of the greatest books ever written and that I told you not to read it on my advice JR is possibly a 726 page headache Or it is an oh my fucking god of all literature this is one of the greatest fucking things ever type experience The book is probably about 995% dialog maybe higher actually NONE of the dialog is attributed to anyone There is no he said Stella exclaimed JR excitedly yelled Bast resignedly agreed Jack drunkenly argued None of that stuff Just approximately seven hundred some odd pages of people speaking who you need to build the story up out of the context of what they are saying and the brief actiondescription paragraphs that move characters either temporally or spatially around If you can give yourself into the author If you can trust that Mr Gaddis knows what he is doing and he isn't going to steer you too wrong then go right ahead and start reading If you are going to get your asshole in a knot over not always being completely clear about who is speaking to whom or that you need to know everything immediately than this book is not for you Roland Barthes kooky theory aside this book shows the author is not dead the reader is to the author and that giving yourself over to the hands of a very skilled writer such as William Gaddis is a transcendent experience I imagine engaging in a novel like this is about as close as I will ever have to putting myself fully in the hands of a higher power BUT that doesn't mean the book is going to excuse you from having to do some work on your own You've got to pay attention and read the fucking thing like an intelligent adult and not as a passive consumer And you have to be the type of reader who can enjoy that an author is creating a cantata of dialog well it may have been an opera at first but after a bit it had to be toned down4Why we reread Why does a book like this appeal to me? Why at the midway point in my days well midway point in a year do I spend ten days reading a satire on corporate America written in a difficult and slow style? Why did I feel a total rush reading this? Why does reading a book like this get me excited for the possibilities of literature the intellect creativity etc that a straight forward book just doesn't usually do for me? Why are most well all of my absolute favorites all 'difficult' in one way or another? I'm not looking to impress anyone by reading this If anything I'd recommend most people I know not to read this because I don't think they would have the patience to let the book unfold on it's own terms this is the condition that I imagine one must have to read Finnegans Wake I believe Joyce is an able writer genius who may make things difficult but not guide one wrong As opposed to certain 'wits' on this website who believe that it is just gibberish that a computer program could write as satisfying of a read I read lots of books that aren't difficult And some of those books I enjoy a great deal Some I even award five stars But they don't usually strike me as books I will want to return to again For example Kafka's prose isn't the most enjoyable to read I mean stylistically for me But he is an author that I can see returning to again and again His stories have an openness to them that invites re readings and play even though they take place in a very confining and formally rigid realm I'm not just talking about plot setting here Or why are DFW's long serpentine sentences really a light joy that can be savored? Why doesn't a straight forward writer not seem to invite re readings? Of course this is only for me For you there are probably a whole different set of characteristics that make you want to cherish one book over another But can we even really point a finger to what it is in a book that makes one work over another?5In closing JR is an amazing book and I don't recommend you read it Or read it but I disavow all responsibility for you reading it and consider yourself warned Big Business Is For KidsI grew up just down the road from William Gaddis's home But I didn't encounter his writing until about thirty years ago first in his enthralling Recognitions and then in JR which to me is the most important piece of fiction ever written about businessJR is a six grader who builds a business empire from a phone box He gets to know the tricks of the trade any trade by trial and error Hence he can reveal the real ethos of business as he goes along without commentary but just the way it isGaddis uses an innovative techniue to keep the action going that takes a bit of acclimatisation but is well worth the reader's effort The centre of narration shifts or less constantly and without announcement as characters literally brush up against one another The story is passed on like a sort of secret parcel that one has to watch for continuously The effect is a literary mimicry of the frenetic but not terribly useful seuence of commercial activities from selling to corporate takeovers The busyness of businessGaddis's point I think is the essential puerility of the corporate rat race It is a game played by children who like Donald Trump may have passed through puberty some time ago It is a game with fixed rules which make little sense except to the players of the game It also alas is a game that crushes authentic creativity whether in art or other human endeavour A dozen years after JR was published that would be in 1987 someone possibly Gaddis but I can't confirm it wrote a supplemental piece entitled JR Goes to Washington In that piece JR is only an expert witness testifying before a Congressional Committee Little could any one have dreamed that this bit of slapstick would be a gross understatement of the coming reality of a Trump presidency

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