It is one thing to read a book about entropy. It is another thing entirely to read a book that is entropy.
The challenges of working through dialogue without attribution have been compounded in these pages with phones ringing and people dying, shoes getting lost and multiple Generals, two guys in slings and face bandages and people in each others’ suits, and sex and faucets that won’t stop running and mail flying through the air…
It’s been a little tough to keep track of things. It’s a testament to Gaddis that the story continues to make some sense, but I’ve found these pages to be among the most difficult in which to maintain a reasonable momentum and keep track of the scenery going by.
Similar struggles have been contemplated by Daryl L.L. Houston over at Infinite Zombies, who wrote in a post titled “Worthwhile?“
I am curious whether anybody else is finding the length of the book, and especially of some passages, to be taxing.
I find that the portions of the book that take place in boardrooms and offices or on the phone between people situated in these locales get old pretty quickly.
Personally, my frustrations tend to grow with the presence of Gibbs, who turns into an un-listening, interrupting fount of allusive gibberish and bad marriage advice once he gets hold of some liquor. Whiteback’s office, with its two phones and competing streams of visitors and broadcasts is a close second.
Adding to the confusion are J R’s increasingly complex business dealings. This seems to be the one place in the novel where a system holds its shape long enough to be effectively acted upon. J R uses tax laws and banking strategies to increase cash flow and invest in companies without really concerning himself in the production and sale of any particular product. He’s making sure that his money works for him, even if his companies don’t.
On the other side of J R’s business adventures are Eigen, the late Schramm, Gibbs, Schepperman and Bast, the artists trying to make a living with their products. The cold hard business of capitalism here is moving ahead with handshakes and phone calls, and the production end is a peripheral concern when it’s not useful for a tax write off. In this long book about modern American capitalism, the true workers and producers are the painter, the writers and the composer. The artists are the only characters who actually make and sell tangible products. And so far, one writer has hung himself, one is unable to follow-up on his previous novel and another can’t write at all. The painter’s works go straight into storage where no one sees them, and the composer can’t get a dime for the pieces he’s written. As disorienting and confusing as this novel can be, these stories are all too recognizable.
- Michael Moats