Tests of Time: Essays Paperback – 3 Jun 2003
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About the Author
William H. Gass has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the first PEN/Nabokov Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, a Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Among his many books are "Omensetter's Luck: A Novel"; "The Tunne"l; "Finding a Form: Essays"; "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories"; and "Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation." He lives in St. Louis.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I also throw my hands up regarding his essay on Calvino's Invisible Cities. - Well, that is to say, I know what I think of it. It's too esoteric by half. And the game is pretty much up when, at the height of his, er, Calvinolatry, Gass claims that this slim volume out-Proust's Proust. After such a disproportion, any attempt to take him seriously anent Calvino can be no longer seriously maintained.
But there are some good sections herein, the best being the eponymous essay on why certain works remain resonant with readers throughout the ages. This is Gass at his best. This is the Gass who motivated my purchase of this book. This is the Gass who, unbeknownst to me until I read this essay, holds another of my favourite writers in his pantheon and provides startling insights on why his work passes the tests of time: to wit, Thoreau.
So, all in all, a mixed bag. Unfortunately, the rather tedious parts tend to outnumber the brilliant ones. And Gass's style, in general, seems to me one that simply wears thin after a couple hundred pages. When Gass sticks to literature, or to commenting on the writer in the everyday world, through the ages, as he does in "The Writer and Politics: A Litany," he is scintillating and exciting. Most of the writing in this book, though, is of an unpleasantly offbeat nature that tends to the grating or soporific, by turns. So, three stars for the pearls amidst the paste.
I can't believe anyone would publish these essays in the first place. I enjoy meandering prose, but only if it is to an eventual point. These pieces go on and on. Uncharacteristically, I was constantly checking how many pages I had left before the next essay.
A few of the pieces showed promise - Invisible Cities, Sidelonging, Tests of Time and The Shears of the Censor in particular - but soon become tedious as the reader is bludgeoned with copious amounts of prose that leads to no purpose. The one exception was Anywhere But Kansas, which was a lithe 9 pages. I am assuming that the other 30 pages were eaten by Gass' puppy or something.
Just to be clear, I read many long, complex novels and enjoy them - Barth's Giles Goat-Boy, Sot-Weed Factor and Letters; Grass' Tin Drum and Dog Years; Mitchell's Cloud Atlas - but when you are writing essays they have to be tight, or at least vaguely interesting throughout, else the length becomes unbearable.
Until now, I was excited to read The Tunnel. I will still give it a shot in the coming months, but I am no longer looking forward to it.
Gass is completely off the rails when he favours Rushdie over Solzhenitsyn, for instance, and while comparisions of that type are invidious, it does make one wonder about Gass' internal compass that he can completely sympathize with the first while absolutely denigrate the second.
In general Gass' thinking process is a mess, often contradictory and, if this can be said without a brick being thrown, typical of those writers who (grow to) consider themselves philosophers or thinkers. His writing praises itself, there is too much consonance and assonance, and the lure of the jab is far more attractive to him than sober thought. It's not just the ideas that are poor, but their vehicle.