I know it’s been a while, and honestly, I don’t have many insights to offer about the end of J R. In the closing pages, things continue on in their wild, entropic trajectories — entropic in the most literal sense of systems losing order and collapsing, from the stock market to human bodies. For the most part, things get worse for everyone, and we don’t walk away feeling like we’ve reached a satisfactory conclusion. Nor are we really supposed to, I’d wager.
I feel okay with this abdication of blogging duties because Lee Konstantinou — founder of the #OccupyGaddis movement — has provided us with “Too Big to Succeed,” a comprehensive and compelling review of the novel to close out OccupyGaddis at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Both publishing and Wall Street, Gaddis’s novel suggests, are “paper empires,” enterprises heinously, hilariously bad at what they do, and bad in similar ways. Both have subordinated their alleged functions — rationally allocating capital; optimally connecting readers and writers — to reckless speculation. Con men and gamblers rise, while the sensible and the serious are crushed. If Gaddis’s indictment is right, his novels may therefore be paradoxically doomed to be ignored, derided, and misunderstood, to fail to find the readership they deserve, not despite but because of their integrity. Gaddis’s novel would thus be both the great chronicler of Wall Street’s malignant rise and the victim of its triumphant ethos.
Whether one views Gaddis’s perspective as self-evidently true or as a self-serving story meant to displace blame for his personal failures onto others, one thing shouldn’t be in doubt: J R is a wild, rollicking success. It deserves the buzz and marketing budget typically reserved for writers who receive seven-figure advances. It deserves an army of dedicated readers who will, with near-religious devotion, take the time to unlock the wonders and mysteries of this hilarious, brilliant, and punishing satire of American capitalism. More than almost anything being published by young or established writers today, J R is the novel of our age.
Konstantinou finds J R to be a “tough, amazing book” and uses it to mount a defense of difficult fiction and critique the culture, starting with the publishing industry, tangling a bit with Jonathan Franzen, and then taking on society in general. It’s an interesting argument that you may or may not agree with, and a worthwhile read either way. Get the whole thing here.
– Michael Moats