- Hardcover: 395 pages
- Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group (12 Mar. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307701638
- ISBN-13: 978-0307701633
- Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 3.4 x 24.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 211,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Middle C Hardcover – 12 Mar 2013
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Top Customer Reviews
Please note that the one star review is from a notorious amazon Troll, whose reviews should not be taken seriously (as his rambling and poorly written reviews should indicate).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Joseph shares the same gloomy outlook on humanity as his father. He fears humanity will not disappear. He experiences people as a blight. But he regards himself as a fake, a questionable teacher of music and a quixotic music critic. Here he lives in Ohio, in the middle of the country, with a population that are all unequal. He is haunted by crimes against humanity, founding an Inhumanity Museum. Joseph lives in his mother's garden, amongst the rules of nature, and even here he can feel the fraud.
The book revolves around riffs of philosophy, musicology, perhaps the quest for the middle. The language is playful, then devastating, then prosaic. This book has been reviewed as difficult to read, post modern, and uneven. These reviews scared me off for a while, but I was intrigued with the Austrian pretending to be a Jew. I found the writing accessible, mesmerizing, and fantastic in the true meaning of the word. I like Joseph and his quest for the middle that even in music, never sounds alone. I urge you to make the jump, disregarding the warnings. Not much is new in the literary sun, but this book has much that is novel, in the true meaning of the word.
The writing is often dense which, for me, definitely detracted from the pleasure of reading, but Gass is so knowledgeable and intellectual that he kept me going. His humor ("At first Joey appreciated her apparently genuine vulgarity in such a crowd of stodges."), his odd characters (the unforgettable Miss Spiky who Skizzen and I couldn't help but like) and an unusual story with plenty of deep thoughts to ponder carried me through to the end. I don't expect to see "Middle C" at the top of "The New York Times" Best Sellers list, but a big bravo to Gass and Knopf for publishing it.
In some of the early chapters (3, 6), Gass relates, with considerable relish, a great many details of horrific murders of people by other people. Not since William Burroughs (Naked Lunch, but especially Thanksgiving Day Prayer) have I seen inhumanity related with such deadpan glee. I don't pick up any sense of outrage, or even disgust, from Gass. He seems almost bored with it. This is the way it is, the way it always has been. The bewildering thing is that somehow people in general continue on, civilization walking around in an incredible, indelible, fantasy of its goodness and mercy. But if Gass thinks he's the first with that news, he's sadly mistaken.
At one point our hero, in his quest to avoid human affairs, mentions: "I am lonely." But it's very late in the book, and that thought is not explored or developed. He's got more than a whiff of misogyny to him; in several passages he's deploring the ways in which women are always trying to entangle him in 'human affairs;' e.g., his sister gives birth and he resents that he's expected to notice or care.
But mostly, this is writing for the joy of expression. In the late chapters there is far too much repetition, especially about our hero's academic life and his home life with his mother. Even though it's all so clever, and written with such intricate weave, I found myself skip-reading through the late chapters. (Gass, describing a house: "The front windows were... faintly bayed like a distant dog.") The biggest rapture in life occurs when, after you've been expecting the sky to fall on you, it lands on your neighbor instead. This peculiar twist on Aristotle's characterization of sidestepped tragedy may be Gass's most perverse original offering here.
"This is the way we smirk and sigh, lurk and spy,favor buy,
this the way we smile and lie
to prepare for the faculty meeting."
"...a commentator, with a voice melting over its vowels, like dark chocolate. . ."
"When he faced his first class, he heard his words toddle from his mouth, their sense of conviction tied to a string for handy retraction."
"...in sum, rudeness heated to the degree of brutality"
". . .you don't feel your future as you feel a thigh . . . because the present is too intense, too sunny, brief as a sneeze, too higgledy-piggledy, too complete, too total a drag already, whereas there is simply so much future, the future is flat as the sea three miles from your eye while the beach you are sitting on is aboil with sunshine and nakedness."
"Bydeebyby . . ."
Tell me, how did Gass come up with that version of toot-a-loo? Original with him, like so much else in this extraordinary book, it is but one of a multitude of expressions, ankle-turning variations on the familiar, that willl make you chuckle, wince, read on because you can't wait for the next one. "Wordulating" for example, as in "When the world ends the word will write on . . .wordulating." (ellipses in the original). All of us who write might be said to "wordulate" as, say, in "undulate" - as dancers do -or pontificate, as politicians do, but Gass, unless I miss my guess, is the first to put a name to what words do when we are not there to keep an eye on them.
If I were to hazard a guess as to what Middle C is about, I would say it's a story about how hard it is to get ahead in this life with one hand tied behind your back. In this case its an an ersatrz professor who lacks the bona fides required for his position and so concocts them out of whole cloth. Moreover, the protagonist (Gass relies on an omnipotent narrator) just wants to keep his head down, to operate in the shadows so that he can keep his flim flam from discovery.
There's more to him than that; he has no use for the abuses man inflicts on his fellows, abuses documented in his ever expanding "Inhumanity Museum". The professor's nephew "will grow up in a nation perpetually at war and indifferent to the safety of its citizens. Cars will carry guns and flags." Gass indicts our age, our country for its warfulness, its greed, its indifference to the needs of the earth and its creatures. As Ozick puts it "He is like the man in the fairy tale whose sight is so powerful that he must bind his eyes with a blindfold lest he see too unbearably much..."
End note. How does Gass feel about his "wordulating"? It comes hard to him. It took him 26 years to write "The Tunnel", nine more than he spent writing Middle C. How come? "I write slowly because I write badly. I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity." If, now nearly 88 years old, Gass is unlikely to undertake another novel, we may at least look forward to his essays and short stories. Because, despite what he says, he doesn't write badly, he writes with aplomb, grace and ingenuity that assure his place in our letters.