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J R (1975)

by William Gaddis

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2041812,968 (4.21)78
A great masterpiece by William Gaddis, with a new introduction by Rick Moody. 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.… (more)
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» See also 78 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Magnificent. ( )
  lehrer21 | Jun 29, 2021 |
- Review: https://www.thisissplice.co.uk/2020/10/19/hey-you-listening/
- Video ramble: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuwiFeIbPKs

- Group reading on Instagram with @therecognitionsbookclub this October-November.
- Group reading on #BookTwitter with #Gaddis2020 this October-November (thanks, @ReemK10). ( )
  chrisvia | Apr 29, 2021 |
One of my all-time favorites. You have to learn how to read it as you go along. The first half of it I spent wondering why I was putting myself through the torture of it, and the second half I spent belly-laughing. An amazing accomplishment to have written, and a pretty significant one to have read and enjoyed (if I do say so myself).

----

I wrote the above blurb when first adding the book a few years ago. I just reread it for what I believe was my fourth full reading of the book. It's still a marvel, but I found it less thrilling this time through, perhaps because I knew most of the gags already and had less of the "I'm solving a puzzle as I read" feeling that makes the book so fun the first few times through. I found a lot of the repetitiveness tedious this time. It's still among my top favorite books because of the achievement it represents, but I think I'll wait a good long time before reading it again. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
Gaddis is a challenge. Phenomenal, too. ( )
  MccMichaelR | Jul 23, 2020 |


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, equally telling about American culture, everybody stops talking mid-sentence to answer the phone. Interruption as a mode of communication.

There is a quote 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 should.

And, 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 quite 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 Quaker 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 equipment 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 era.

In 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 writer/artist – the surly, gruff, liquor-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 gadgets.

JR 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. ( )
3 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
J R is the perfect novel for our new recession-driven world.
 

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A great masterpiece by William Gaddis, with a new introduction by Rick Moody. 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.

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