- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (25 Sept. 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141180102
- ISBN-13: 978-0141180106
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 264,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Omensetter's Luck (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) Paperback – 25 Sep 1997
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"["Omensetter's Luck "is]Gass first novel, and his least avant-gardeish, and his best. Basically a religious book. Very sad. Contains the immortal line The body of Our Saviour shat but Our Saviour shat not. Bleak but gorgeous, like light through ice."
-David Foster Wallace
""Omsensetter's Luck "is the work of a totally committed, totally uncompromising and extraordinarily gifted writer."
"A rich fever, a parade of secrets, delirious, tormented, terrifying, comic...one of the most exciting, energetic and beautiful novels we can ever hope to read."
From the Back Cover
Greeted as a masterpiece when it was first published in 1966, Omensetter's Luck is the quirky, impressionistic, and breathtakingly original story of an ordinary community galvanized by the presence of an extraordinary man. Set in a small Ohio town in the 1890s, it chronicles - through the voices of various participants and observers - the confrontation between Brackett Omensetter, a man of preternatural goodness, and the Reverend Jethro Furber, a preacher crazed with a propensity for violent thoughts. Omensetter's Luck meticulously brings to life a specific time and place as it illuminates timeless questions about life, love, good, and evil.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
There is one chapter here, where a preacher tries to plant doubt into a shopowner's head, that's among the most amazing pieces of stream-of-consciousness-prose I've ever come across. On the other hand, there are passages that I had to re-read three or four times in order to even figure out the basic context of the story.
One passage is especially problematic. The preacher Jethro Furber, in effect the main character, is introduced with a long, manic soliloquoy. His thoughts moves between impressions of people sunbathing in front of him, recollections of the time he first came to town, childhood memories, A LOT of bizarre nursery rhymes and a complete breakdown in front of a gravestone. All just a beautiful mess. There is no signposting here, the scenes just bounces into each other at random, and I had a hard time figuring out what was happening, where I was and who was even talking.
I barely got through these 80 pages, but I'm glad that I did, because after that, the novel tightens the plotting and turns its attention to the tragedy at its core. But because of chapters like this, in contrast with chapters with more momentum, the novel comes across as a little uneven - a work that could have made a greater impact by being more balanced.
As disorienting as the text can be, it also rewards the patient and attentive. Gass's vision is as bold and singular as any you'll ever come across. It's perhaps a shame that just a few tweaks could have made the visionary stand out more than the outright eccentric.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Everything comes together nicely in the last one hundred pages of the book. I credit William Gass' well-paced, extremely realistic dialogue for helping to accomplish this feat, which I would have otherwise considered impossible had I mistakenly decided not to stick with this flawed, but must-read book.
Omensetter is a big happy oaf who rides into Gilean with a wagon full of junk, and his little family. He does everything seemingly without a care in the world for how it will turn out, but everything he does seems to work out just fine anyway, in spite of the odds. This bugs the bejeezus out of the local preacher, which is quite a thing to see...and hear. Who does this Omensetter think he is, anyway, being all happy, having everything work out, enjoying life, and not showing up at church to listen to the good preacher's frothing-at-the-mouth sermons about how lousy life is on top of it? Is he the devil, perchance?
Well things start to sour in Gilean for Omensetter and the preacher couldn't feel more justified; he's been talking the guy down from the start. Now just about everyone starts thinking that maybe Omensetter really is a little "too" lucky...
And that's about the size of it without giving too much away. I'm a fan of Gass so I probably have more patience for his style than a lot of readers might have for unpacking the density of his prose. But if you've the stomach for it, this is richly satisfying fare. I don't think it's quite so towering a literary landmark as the hyperbolic reviews on the book proclaim, but "Omensetter's Luck" is a powerful book, no doubt about it.
There's quite a mix of linguistic tricks in this difficult novel. Grab a glossary of literary terms and go looking - you'll probably find at least one example of each in here.
Frankly, I'm not as impressed as I thought I would be. I was expecting to have to work at this (it is Gass after all), but I just didn't really enjoy it. There were many funny, moving passages that made the read worthwhile, but I never felt truly drawn to any of the characters.
Would I recommend this? Yes, but only if you have enjoyed other difficult "literary" experimental works. Certainly, it is not for anyone wanting a light read.
The narrators, for different reasons, have problems thinking coherently, and since this is a stream-of-consciousness experimental novel, it is a slow read. There is real method to the writing madness, however. The author definitely sweated over these sentences, but, for me, parsing them out is hard.
The first chapter begins with the town's story teller at an auction. The name of the chapter is 'The Triumph of Israbestis Tott'. Unlike the other chapters where the narrators are distressed, Tott, through his stories, has a firm grip on his internal life, despite the mysteries and unsolved problems. Sharing histories with anyone who listens, he enjoys himself. He feels connected to his community, but old age and the passing of people he knew is chipping away at him. Still, he has the stories.
The main narrater, who is Furber, has thoughts which are full of Biblical references which he cannot stop thinking about despite his complete lack of belief or faith. I think he once believed that the meaning of life was hidden in word ideas, but the senses of his body are overwhelming him with an unfiltered, unscreened flood of sensations of everything - bodies that he cannot help sexualizing at all times and places, faces, smells, hands, rustling clothes, hair, furniture, light, trees, rivers - which he is desperate to reject as a wrong thing - but worst of all, the ghosts of the dead appear to have something to say to him, but he is going mad trying to speak to them. He is desperate to impart meanings to his shrinking congregation, but he is unable to give an ungarbled sermon. His section gives one pause over "I think, therefore I am" (Descartes). He is John Lennon's Nowhere Man.
Brackett Omensetter arrives in town with his pregnant wife and two daughters, his household goods precariously unsecured in a wagon. It's 1890. He is a respectable Natural Man, a blacksmith, charismatic and lucky. He immediately affects the entire town with his lack of anxiety or preparations or precautions in any endeavor -he simply does it, and it always comes out fine. He does not have observations the reader can share, he simply is observed and discussed by the other characters. While his thoughts are silent on the page, the entire town is deeply unsettled because of his presence. Omensetter 'was a wide and happy man.' He appears to have only an interest in the present.
Reverend Jethro Furber is unstable, possessed of a 'diseased imagination', and he cannot abide Omensetter. He decides to force town opinion to reject Omensetter, so he starts a massive campaign of lies against the happy smith. He makes little headway until the mysterious disappearance of Henry Pimber, a respectable townsman. Omensetter, as Pimber's renter, is the last to see Pimber before he disappeared. Pimber's chapter is called, "The Love and Sorrow of Henry Pimber." Pimber cannot help comparing himself with Omensetter and realizing his life was a 'fool's gold' of observation while Omensetter ' joined himself to what he knew'. Before meeting Omensetter, Pimber had been like a stone. After, it was all 'painful beauty'. He is literally frozen into immobility, partially because of the sudden self-realizations about his existence.
The examined life can be a nightmare, I guess.
The time is evidently the late nineteenth century, the place a small town called Gilean located on the Ohio River. A "wide and happy" man named Brackett Omensetter recently has moved into town with his pregnant wife, two daughters, dog, and a mountain of furniture and belongings on a horse-drawn cart. He rents a house from a man named Henry Pimber and gets a job as a tanner with Mat Watson, the town blacksmith.
Omensetter quickly becomes an object of curiosity in Gilean for his unbelievable, almost supernatural, luck. In the middle of the rainy season, the rain stops for his moving day; his house manages to avoid an otherwise damage-guaranteeing flood; he seems impervious to injury. He's an expert stone skipper and an effective naturalistic healer. Nobody will bet against him. He is not only aware of his own incredible luck; he depends on it so strongly that it replaces religion, and he feels no need to attend Gilean's only church, ministered by the Reverend Jethro Furber.
Furber is a fascinating character who avoids the flatness of most fictional preachers. His parents sheltered him insufferably as a child, depriving him of anything they considered a bad moral influence and prohibiting him from playing with other kids; now he walks around reciting dirty songs to himself and talks to the grave of Pike, a previous pastor. He resents Omensetter's neglect of the church yet is intrigued by his ostensible luck; unsurprisingly, he accuses Omensetter of being "of the dark ways" and "beyond the reach of God." He tries gently to persuade Watson to fire Omensetter, which would force him to leave town...P>Approaching "The Sound and the Fury" and "As I Lay Dying" in complexity of both narration and characterization, "Omensetter's Luck" is an odd book in both style and substance, the product of an independent literary thinker who demonstrates that a truly good story transcends even the strangest packaging.