We may expect that such a long and long-awaited book as JR will fall into one of two categories; either some work intellectually and emotionally gargantuan, like Don Quixote, War and Peace, Remembrance of Things Past, or The Magic Mountain, or else some huge and magnificent, generous, ingenious, and memorable entertainment, like Our Mutual Friend or Old Wives’ Tale. If one judged by the reviews that have appeared so far, one would imagine JR to be the former kind of work: obscure and full of boomings, perhaps even a true work of genius, which normally means pretentiously exclusive, turgidly self-indulgent, and awesomely unreadable, like Finnegans Wake. According to George Steiner in The New Yorker (and there are signs that Gaddis would like to think it’s true) JR is indeed that fashionable monster “the unreadable book.” Steiner scornfully quotes some passages, and to any one who hasn’t read JR, they’re persuasive. But if one has read the novel, one can only hop on one foot, spluttering in confusion and rage (like young JR), yelling “Crazy! holy shit!”—because Steiner’s right in a way. JR is, finally, bad art, but despite what Steiner thinks, it’s wonderfully and easily readable.[thus breaks off the review before the MIGHT of the NYRB's paywall.I would be interested in seeing the rest of this calamity]
Except for the last two hundred pages or so, where the novel takes a turn toward rant—filling the reader with an indignation he would never feel at a writer’s betrayal of some lesser fiction—JR is a delightful, large and various, technically brilliant entertainment. But it is also false, in the end, because the novel’s self-righteous, emotionally uncontrolled last movement poisons what went before it, casting suspicion on what seemed at first basically generous and fairminded, genially satiric or justly sardonic.
So one must ask why John Gardner, whom I had confused with Jonathan Franzen in my opening line, who has written a book entitled On Moral Fiction, could write such an IMMORAL review.And one also asks how such a one, having written such a book with such a title, would totally fail to have recognized a MORAL FICTION when he is paid to read and review one.These two CLOWNS, because I WILL NOT advocate the BURIAL of a book, shall be righteously left on the side of our Literary Landscape, perhaps choking on their own incompetence, for the CRIME of attempting and wishing the BURIAL of one of the greatest NOVELISTS our twentieth century has known.
eBook On Moral Fiction