Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review: "The Recognitions" by William Gaddis

The Recognitions, William Gaddis’ gargantuan and genre creating first novel, kicked my ass, plain and simple. I was simply not knowledgeable enough to enjoy most of it, and that is a fact that kind of hurts me, but in retrospect, I hope it is something that makes me a stronger reader. I pride myself on not so much an ability to understand different kinds of books, but my willingness to take a journey where there is more mystery than familiarity. But having said that, this book isn’t simply a case of the genre not being one that I am interested in: just this year I read Pynchon’s Against the Day, and found myself enjoying myself more than I expected over its 1085 pages. But it’s the density of Gaddis’ 956 page novel, the lack of any kind of guiding light, which I will get to soon, that made this reading not so much a slog, but a humbling reminder that while I am proud of where I am in intelligence and knowledge, there are still ideas out there that are still too big for me. The loose plot concerns Wyatt Gwyon, a minster’s son, who, after forsaking the priesthood, finds a niche in the art world by forging religious paintings. There are other plot lines, including one about a writer named Otto and another about Stanley, a musician, but since Gaddis rarely uses identifier when writing dialogue, the reader gets caught in a strange infinite knot that is nearly impossible to escape (at least for me it was not). The ideas in this book, their breadth and complexity, deserve to be read again, which I will do someday. Right now, I need to get on with easier, more digestible books, and lick my wounds for when I pick up this book again.

Rating: 3/5

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