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Omensetter's Luck (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) Paperback – 25 Sep 1997

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • 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)

Product Description


"["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."
-Walker Percy
"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.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Weirdly, wildly and at times gorgeously unreadable, Omensetter's Luck cares less about continuity or convenience and more about its feverish impressions. It's the kind of novel you can drown in if you are open to it, at least for twenty pages or so until the text spins into a vortex again and spits you out of the water.

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
OMENSETTER'S LUCK is an impressionistic steam-of-consciousness novel featuring many voices. A dense yet playful fiction that isn't easy to grasp (never mind keep hold of!). In many ways it is reminiscent of a vivid dream - a dream reflecting a long-lost North American past - quirky, nostalgic, full of merging meaning, colours and scenes. I would say this is primarily a work for prose-lovers: surreal and wondrous descriptions mingle with gritty realism, stark machinations and crazy-clunky confabs. A book to either get joyously lost in or be utterly bemused by.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 26 reviews
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Discovering a gem hidden amidst a huge mess 22 Feb. 2002
By IRA Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am very glad that I decided to read _Omensetter's Luck_ all the way through. Hidden in a plethora of incoherent sentences, incomprehensible metaphors and silly rhymes, is a very worthwhile story of two men: Brackett Omensetter, who migrates to Gilean, Ohio with his wife and small children, and the Reverend Jethro Furber, who is the town's minister. Furber suffers from deeply repressed guilt, fear, and resentment; his behavior occasionally borders on the psychotic. In his section of the book, Furber gives (or does he imagine giving?) a lengthy church sermon. Although the sermon is fascinatingly self-revealing, I continuously found myself getting lost in Furber's incoherent word salad. I decided, however, to stay with the book, despite the repeated temptation to put it down. As I continued to read, and to my very pleasant surprise, I discovered Omensetter to be a man of great decency and selflessness. He stands head and shoulders above a town full of petty people, many of whom were jealous and resentful of Omensetter's legendary "luck." Gilean's denizens even attributed luck to Omensetter's ability to save miraculously the life of a man dying of lockjaw, contracted from a serious accident. Practically none of the townspeople stand by Omensetter when, later, he is unjustly accused of being responsible for the hanging death of this same man.
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.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh what a lucky man he was... 7 Dec. 2009
By Mark Nadja - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you imagine a combination of Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" without the letter, Faulkner, but in the Midwest of the 1890s, the Mellvillean examination of the tragic fate of innocence sans ocean, whale, and Ahab, and passages of stentorian rhetoric of Biblical and Shakespearean proportions--that's sort of what you have here. You have to be in the mood. If you can't tune into the rhythm of Gass's prose, this novel will be a hundred miles of rough uphill sledding.

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.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Furber's Story 5 Mar. 2008
By Tanstaafl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title concerns me some. The book was less about Omensetter and more about Reverend Jethro Furber.

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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, but worth it 1 July 2012
By Wistful Angst - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this experimental novel of scene-chewing language it's all about the words. It's as if dozens of crossword puzzles spewed volcanically over the pages, but the words are not hard or multi-syllabic, simply difficult to understand as used in these sentences. There are several narrators who are difficult to read initially and most are in some sort of spiritual trouble, in particular Reverend Jethro Furber. He is a person with absolutely no anchor of any kind, and his insane verbiage narrates 3/4ths of the story. Despite that, this is a work of genius, in my opinion. Without question, it has to be read several times for clarity, but it does become clearer with each reading. The writing is beautiful, and many sentences and paragraphs will tempt you to memorize them.

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.
68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book awaits the lucky reader... 22 July 2002
By A.J. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Even with its antiquated setting, "Omensetter's Luck" is so avant-garde and eccentric that it's a challenge to write a review that doesn't seem like a shameful oversimplification. Imagine a story about perceptions of good and evil, envy, and suspicion narrated in an impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness style that rivals Faulkner at his most experimental, combining uniquely poetic prose, Joycean wordplay, an ominous mood, and multiple focuses, voices, and perspectives, and you'll begin to get the idea.
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.
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