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Middle C Hardcover – 12 Mar 2013

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • 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: 238,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A fat, ripe read... A final statement of Gass's belief in the sound of literary language... rhythmic and sonic..."
--Brian Dillon, "The Times Literary Supplement"
"A realistic story... a religious allegory and a philosophical meditation... extraordinary."
--David Thoreen, "The Boston Globe"
" "
"Exhilarating... dazzling..."
--Mike Fischer, "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel"
" "
"["Middle C"] offers tactile pleasure... generous... comic..."
--Michael Gorra, "The New York Review"
"Of all living literary figures, William Gass may count as the most daringly scathing and most assertively fecund: in language, in ideas, in intricacy of form; above all in relentless fury... From its opening notes until its coda, this unquiet bildungsroman is designed to detonate its mild, middling title... Exhilaratingly ingenious... unexpected and dizzying..."
--"Cynthia Ozick," The New York Times Book Review (cover)
""Middle C "takes its place in that great line of modern novels about inauthenticity... However, there is nothing sham to William Gass's art: It's not just dazzling, it's the real thing."
--Michael Dirda, "The Washington Post"
"Gass orchestrates his fiction with thematic elements as a composer might a symphony."
--Dan Lopez, "Timeout New York"
"Entertaining and enlightening... emotionally gouging as well as amusing... I rank the novel first among Gass's six books of fiction."
--Tom LeClair, "The Barnes and Noble Review"
"A masterly work of language and imagery from one of America's most celebrated authors."
--Joshua Finnell, "Library Journal" (starred)
"A mischievous variation on the moral dilemmas raised in Gass' "The Tunnel" . . . In this exuberantly learned bildungsroman--this torrent of curious facts and arch commentary, puns and allusions--internationally lauded virtuoso Gass reflects on humanity's crimes and marvels, creating his funniest and most life-embracing book yet."
--"

""Middle C" takes its place in that great line of modern novels about inauthenticity. . . . However, there is nothing sham to Gass's art: It's not just dazzling, it's the real thing." --"The Washington Post
""A world-devouring novel. . . . Of all living literary figures, William Gass may count as the most daringly scathing and most assertively fecund: in language, in ideas, in intricacy of form; above all in relentless fury. . . . This unquiet bildungsroman is designed to detonate its mild, middling title. . . . Exhilaratingly ingenious . . . unexpected and dizzying." --Cynthia Ozick, " The New York Times Book Review
""Rhythmic and sonic. . . . A final statement of Gass's belief in the sound of literary language."" --The Times Literary Supplement (London)
""Gass is a magician of the word, the writer of a prose so rich that it makes Vladimir Nabokov's seem impoverished. . . . Metaphors leap through hoops, similes elicit oohs and ahs, and daredevil paragraphs bring down the house. There's never any fat or slack to his sentences, though sometimes they unfold quietly, almost slyly, until blossoming into little stories all their own." --"The Washington Post
"
"Middle C is driven by plot, by a largely comic chain of cause and consequence. . . . Skizzen proves as befuddled an academic wanderer as anyone this country has seen since Nabokov's Timofey Pnin." --"The New York Review of Books
"
"A mischievous variation on the moral dilemmas raised in Gass's The Tunnel . . . In this exuberantly learned bildungsroman--this torrent of curious facts and arch commentary, puns and allusions--internationally lauded virtuoso Gass reflects on humanity's crimes and marvels, creating his funniest and most life-embracing book yet." --"Booklist" (starred)
"Extraordinary. . . . A religious allegory and a philosophical meditation on language and consciousness as the source of evil." --"The Boston Globe
"
"Gass orchestrates his fiction with thematic elements as a composer might a symphony." --"Timeout New York
"
"Exhilarating . . .dazzling." --"Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
""Epic . . . crazily rich with thought . . . remarkably detailed. . . . Gass beautifully coaxes the unheard music from a seemingly muted life. . . . The unprecedented work of a master." --"Publishers Weekly
"
"A masterly work of language and imagery from one of America's most celebrated authors." --"Library Journal" (starred)
"Engaging, melancholy. . . . Gass remains a master of apt metaphors, graceful sentences and a flinty, unforgiving brand of humor; it may be the most entertaining novel you'll read that half wishes humanity was wiped off the map. . . . Gass, now 88, clearly has endings on his mind, which he addresses with fearsome brio and wit." --"Kirkus
"

"Middle C" takes its place in that great line of modern novels about inauthenticity. . . . However, there is nothing sham to Gass s art: It s not just dazzling, it s the real thing. "The Washington Post
" A world-devouring novel. . . . Of all living literary figures, William Gass may count as the most daringly scathing and most assertively fecund: in language, in ideas, in intricacy of form; above all in relentless fury. . . . This unquiet bildungsroman is designed to detonate its mild, middling title. . . . Exhilaratingly ingenious . . . unexpected and dizzying. Cynthia Ozick, " The New York Times Book Review
" Rhythmic and sonic. . . . A final statement of Gass s belief in the sound of literary language. " The Times Literary Supplement (London)
" Gass is a magician of the word, the writer of a prose so rich that it makes Vladimir Nabokov s seem impoverished.. . . Metaphors leap through hoops, similes elicit oohs and ahs, and daredevil paragraphs bring down the house. There s never any fat or slack to his sentences, though sometimes they unfold quietly, almost slyly, until blossoming into little stories all their own. "The Washington Post
"
Middle Cis driven by plot, by a largely comic chain of cause and consequence. . . . Skizzen proves as befuddled an academic wanderer as anyone this country has seen since Nabokov s Timofey Pnin. "The New York Review of Books
"
A mischievous variation on the moral dilemmas raised in Gass s The Tunnel . . . In this exuberantly learned bildungsroman this torrent of curious facts and arch commentary, puns and allusions internationally lauded virtuoso Gass reflects on humanity s crimes and marvels, creating his funniest and most life-embracing book yet. "Booklist" (starred)
Extraordinary. . . . A religious allegory and a philosophical meditation on language and consciousness as the source of evil. "The Boston Globe
"
Gass orchestrates his fiction with thematic elements as a composer might a symphony. "Timeout New York
"
Exhilarating . . .dazzling. "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
" Epic . . . crazily rich with thought . . . remarkably detailed. . . . Gass beautifully coaxes the unheard music from a seemingly muted life. . . . The unprecedented work of a master. "Publishers Weekly
"
A masterly work of language and imagery from one of America s most celebrated authors. "Library Journal" (starred)
Engaging, melancholy. . . . Gass remains a master of apt metaphors, graceful sentences and a flinty, unforgiving brand of humor; it may be the most entertaining novel you ll read that half wishes humanity was wiped off the map. . . . Gass, now 88, clearly has endings on his mind, which he addresses with fearsome brio and wit. "Kirkus
"" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

William H. Gass essayist, novelist, literary critic was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He is the author of six works of fiction and nine books of essays, including "Life Sentences, A Temple of Texts, and Tests of Time." Gass is a former professor of philosophy at Washington University. He lives with his wife, the architect Mary Gass, in St. Louis." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Gass explores, in typically masterful prose, the problems of identity in the context of the brutality of the 20thc. He is one of the great technical masters of language, and his love for alliteration and simile imbues the novel with beauty and rhythm.

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).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x926d6ce4) out of 5 stars 31 reviews
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x926ff87c) out of 5 stars "Humans were the untrustworthiest and the meanest." 17 Mar. 2013
By Amelia Gremelspacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
At the start of the book, Rudi Skizzen decides to move his from Austria to England to escape the Nazis. He feels that any contact with them would degrade his family, so he fakes being Jewish and is transported as a refugee. He doesn't fool the Jewish community, but he confuses his son Joseph and enrages his wife and makes no real impression on his daughter Deborah. After Rudi disappears, the family ends up in Ohio.

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.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x926ffac8) out of 5 stars Middle C 18 Mar. 2013
By Leslie N. Patino - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Erudite, accomplished and a successful writer capable of penning this complex novel full of beautiful writing, 88-year-old William Gass is a man to admire. In an age when traditional publishing houses and Hollywood are often interested only in reliable blockbusters, this "Middle C," is a note rarely heard. It makes for unusual reading in that it breaks so many of the bestseller rules. The novel is long, the story winding and the tangents numerous. At times, it's hard to know where Gass or protagonist Yussel-Joey-Joseph-Professor Skizzen and the unconventional punctuation are headed with their riffs. The third chapter is ten pages of Skizzen's obsession with writing a single sentence correctly--an obsession that goes on until the next-to-last page of the novel.

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.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x926ffa8c) out of 5 stars ... and words are all I have... 6 April 2013
By Patrican - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Middle C is primarily a display of Gass's love of thinking and writing. Put more crudely, it's a dump of his accumulated musings. So, even more than with most books, any evaluation of Middle C is dependent on the tastes of the reader. If you like intellectual mind-games, interweaving word-play, this book is for you. It's compiled around a man whose aim in life is "to pass through life still reasonably clean of complicity in human affairs, affairs that are always and inevitably ... envious, mean, murderous, jealous, greedy, treacherous, miserly, self-serving, vengeful, pitiless, stupid, and otherwise pointless." He's to remain at "Middle C," although the metaphor doesn't seem to me to be a good one. A life journey unnoticed at the center of the pack doesn't lend itself to dramatic excitement as easily as, say, Ulysses' journey home does, but Gass makes of it what he can.

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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92702084) out of 5 stars Not for the faint of heart - but oh, what music to the ears! 10 April 2013
By Sharon - NYC - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
William Gass has presented us with a master class on the modern novel. Along the way, he discusses the major philosophical dilemmas facing mankind, the questions for all time. Set against the backdrop of Nazi Europe and modern day America is an intricate discussion of identity and of man's inhumanity to man. The protagonist Yussel, Joseph, Joey riffs on what is real and what is not, what is good music and what is not and who decides and based on what criteria. If a man is undocumented, does he exist? Which is better: a credentialed fraud or an uncertified original. What constitutes a life authentically lived and is anyone authentic? Which is worse: the fear that mankind will end or that it will survive? And all of these lofty questions posed in a brilliantly humorous prose that keeps you smiling through your tears. I wouldn't give this a middle C, I would give it an unequivocal A for its love of music, its love of language, lofty and profane and its serious philosophical questions posed by a most unlikely anti-hero.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x926ffe1c) out of 5 stars Polly Wolly Doodle All Day 29 April 2013
By David R. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Gass's sentences are . . . most exhilaratingly ingenious when they venture into unexpected and dazzling keys, diving from vernacular directness into an atonal Niagran deluge. . ." is the way Cynthia Ozick describes William Gass' prose in her New York Times review of Middle C (March 28,2012). It's not surprising that it took Gass 17 years to write this novel. In fact, one wonders why it didn't take longer. For me, the word play makes the book. Imagine, if you will, a step dance class of words, bowing and curtseying , dosido-ing their partners in and out and round about, polly wolly doodle all day. Here is a sample of some of my favorite lines and phrases:

"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.
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