Unrecognized Recognitions: The Letters of William Gaddis

In a January 1988 letter to his daughter, the novelist Sarah Gaddis, William Gaddis (1922-1998) talks about the process behind his next book, A Frolic of His Own (1994):

Which is what I’m rather stumblingly doing now: folders with ribbons & ribbons of paper laying out the step by step of Oscar’s car accident insurance, his copyright lawsuit, Lily’s divorce, her malpractice suit, a dozen suits springing from the ill fated outdoor sculpture Cyclone 7, & many many more. I am rather aghast at what I’ve let myself in for in areas where I am marvelously ignorant. Most of my contemporaries seem to be fiddling around publishing reminiscences about what an interesting fellow I was at fifteen, how I Became a Writer &c. Yawn. All this trepidation obviously over having pretty much got (though I haven’t yet signed) what I wanted in this contract with S&S [Simon & Schuster], everyone saying great, wonderful, me saying my God what have I done!

In a few sentences we pass from a father communicating what he’s doing and how his fourth novel is going, to a view from on high of what certain fellow writers were content to put out, and the pressure Gaddis felt to come up with an answer to “this question what is worth doing? that has dogged me all my life, both in terms of my own life and work…” These themes appear frequently in The Letters of William Gaddis, edited with succinct explanatory notes, and tact, by Steven Moore, among other things a Gaddis scholar who, as a prominent member of a small and vocal reader base, has worked to keep his name and reputation visible. (Disclosure 1: a letter to me appears in the book. Disclosure 2: those who regularly write on Gaddis are few in number and generally know each other.)

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