Vol. XXIII, #1 Gilbert Sorrentino’s Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things
Review of Contemporary Fiction
The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings by William Gaddis, edited by Joseph Tabbi
reviewed by Christopher Paddock
Ed. Joseph Tabbi. Penguin, 2002. 182 pp. Paper: $14.00.
William Gaddis, probably the greatest American author of the past half-century, authored mountains of innovative, satirical fiction that spanned five critically acclaimed novels. He was less prolific in his production of nonfiction, publishing barely a handful of substantial essays. With this brief collection, scholar Joseph Tabbi nicely ballasts those pieces with Gaddis’s unpublished work and corporate writing. The result is more of a scrapbook than an anthology, but thanks to Tabbi’s expert editing and telling commentary, Rush manages to extend the ideas found in Gaddis’s novels and provide insight into the preoccupations of this deeply private author. Readers familiar with Gaddis will recognize the themes in this collection. The title essay and “Old Foes with New Faces” are rigorous criticisms of capitalism and religion, respectively, deliberations on American culture that will no doubt recall JR and Carpenter’s Gothic. Additionally, there are various notes and project outlines that provide a certain voyeuristic penetration into Gaddis’s career-long obsession with the player piano. He was able to pull this disparate material together to create his final work of fiction, Agape- Agape. The more substantial pieces, such as the aforementioned title essay, bear a style similar to that of his fiction, and it is his style that ultimately defines his work as art. Gaddis layers his exposition with voices—Alexander Solzhenitsyn, John Maynard Keynes, Mary Baker Eddy, to name a few—and unattributed references to flesh out his highly charged observations. Still, as Tabbi points out in his introduction, Gaddis’s style is not multifarious for the sake of being difficult. Moreover, it is emblematic of “his determination to grapple with” the “thoroughly transforming conditions” of the world he inhabited. Tabbi does a great job of contextualizing the disparate fodder that makes up Rush, which is a fine compliment to the work of a vastly underappreciated artist.