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  • JR
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4.4 out of 5 stars
9
JR
Format: Paperback|Change


on 2 February 2009
This is a phenomenal creation, a 726-page prophecy of everything that Gaddis foresaw was bound to follow from unfettered capitalism as day follows night - almost all of which did indeed transpire, from shortly after its publication in the messy mid-1970s right up to the global capitalist meltdown we're going through now.

Aside from this astonishing prescient quality, it's a laugh-out-loud narrative, fierce and exciting, and so rich that it can't be digested in anything like a hurry. It's a book to wallow in, to enjoy like a deep warm bubble bath savoured in a perfectly lit bathroom. I began it 10 years ago, read nearly 200 pages, and always intended to return to it (okay, I got out of the bath, lived a little, then drew another one!). When I did pick it up again, a couple of months ago, there were many new elements in place to help me get even more from the novel: the two main ones being the Gaddis website where I could refresh my memory of the plot points up to where I left off, and my having engaged in the world of business as I hadn't when much younger.

So I cracked through the next 500 pages, despite their dense dialogue-based content. The lines are so good, true, funny, authentic, vivid, that there's very little to critique, even 34 years after its publication. The mix of barmy satire with more straightforward dramas is held together by the energy of the writing. The characters are all written sympathetically, except perhaps for the relatively minor one who most closely resembles Gaddis himself!

Gaddis wrote a short update to the book in 1987, when the first big stock market crash of the modern era came; but the original is too perfect, and too visionary to need anything like amending, improving, refining. It defines its context, the society that created it. Until that society evolves, and even in the present mire it doesn't really look like it will, JR will remain relevant, percipient, contemporary, and completely and utterly worth the effort.
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on 5 July 1997
JR is, and I think will come to be seen as, one of the greatest works of literature. Like the world¹s other masterpieces, it rewards persistence magnificently. Like them, it takes some adjustment, for it is a sort of parallel world with a structure and complexity mirroring ours so well that one may mistake it, as one may take our world, for random chaos (the novel contains, in fact, a scene of pandemonium unequaled in literature). But the more one reads it, the more formal excellence it discloses: both in its overall plan and in its detail. JR is a book of voices, written mostly in dialogue. Among other things, it is the greatest novel of New York and environs ever written. Head and shoulders above any other American novel of this century. Buy it, and just keep reading.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 June 2012
This is William Gaddis's second novel, a huge book of over 700 pages, a story told mostly through dialogue. The cacophony of voices contained in JR presents a brilliant satire on corporate America.

`That's what a game is, if there weren't any rules there wouldn't be any game, now sit up.'

JR Vansant is an eleven year old schoolboy who manages to build an enormous economic empire - using his school's public phone booth. JR's empire touches on everyone in the novel and most of them become entangled in it: especially as the paper that documents JR's empire needs to be stored. Everyone spends a great deal of their time thinking or dreaming about money: desiring money; obtaining money and worrying about a lack of money. Money is no longer simply a medium of exchange, in a world in which almost every aspect of life and feeling is commodified, money is an object of desire in its own right. JR's empire grows like a particularly aggressive form of cancer, the size and spread of which becomes apparent to the reader through the conversations, letters and telephone calls that make up the bulk of the novel.

`Is it my fault if I do something first which if I don't do it somebody else is going to do it anyway?'

JR is surrounded by musicians, teachers, and writers - but we see little that is positive or truly creative in their influence. Creativity is subservient to money; aesthetic values have no place in a world where everything is assigned a monetary value. Can such a world be sustained? Should it be? Surely there is a place for Edward Bast? And for Wagner? Both Nordic gods and stock markets can crash. The glory of the gods is only an illusion.

I have read this novel once, and found it both energising and exhausting. It took some time for me to appreciate the way in which Mr Gaddis constructed this world - mainly through dialogue - and drew the various connections between individuals and the recognisably dystopian capitalist world in which their lives were set. I admire the way in which the story is told, and if I've missed various layers of meaning, I'm sure my next read will fill in some of those gaps. This is not an easy novel to read, but it is a rewarding one.

`Hey? You listening ...?'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 24 June 1997
You need to set aside your pride to read anything by William Gaddis, because at first you'll think he makes no sense. As you get used to his singular style, however, it becomes apparent that the man has caught more of the rhythm and cadence of American life than anyone this century. He understands the transactional mindset that is so singular to American myth, the constant reassessing of worth in the marketplace of ego and ideas. Moreover, he's figured out a way to translate this unquantifiable belief structure to paper. Only Wallace Stevens has as clear and true a vision of this gorgeous and awkward Arcadia we call America.
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on 14 October 2008
This is a fantastic work of artistic genius, but it's not for everybody. Most of the people I know that like it are writer wannabees, or people seriously interested in 20th century literature. It's not for people who want an easy read, or something with a traditional narration, it's a hard read.

Personally I find the stuff that's supposed to be funny to be lame. To me what makes the book great is the amazing and groundbreaking dialogue. Like real dialogue (and unlike the stylized dialogue found in all novels before this IMO), the dialogue is interrupted and anarchic, and builds up into a kind of cacophonous noise from which you slowly and amazingly learn to differentiate the characters. Personally I'm in awe, it's just an amazing feat on a technical level, and I believe it's a big influence on other recent dialogue savants like David Foster Wallace. But it's not for everyone - I have intelligent literature loving friends who consider it wanky and lacking in soul. You have to love the art of writing itself to appreciate it IMO.
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on 19 March 1999
I was heartened to see other reader comments on this intensely subversive, fabulously funny and amazing novel of commerce, art and the American Century. Once you get that it READS like LISTENING - to say, a radio play - it is not at all hard to follow. I could not put this book down when I first read it. Maybe there isn't such a thing as the Great American Novel, but this book (and Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow) comes the closest.
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on 19 May 1998
As in his "Recognitions", Gaddis has shown himself the true successor to Joyce. In wonderful verve he displays his understanding of America with the usual acute insight, humour and relish. He also examines the superficiality and materialism that comes with an established free-enterprise economy. Art has its saving graces but cannot save society (only perhaps the handful) in an imperfect world.
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on 7 February 1999
See: one-line summary. A very, very good work of fiction. On the same level as John Barth's best work.
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on 22 September 1997
This award-winning "novel" by William Gaddis is unremittingly boring and I recommend it only to your worst enemies. The writing is so bad that I could not understand what was going on. And, after a couple of pages, I didn't care. This so-called "novel" is nearly all dialogue which is not necessarily a criticism, but the characters in JR are so pretentious and boring that having to put up with their blather is like being trapped at the bottom of the ocean in that jumbo jet from AIRPORT '77 with a cabin full of literary critics. If you absolutely must torture yourself with a chatty novel full of bad dialogue, I recommend Thomas Pynchon's MASON & DIXON. At least that bloated masterpiece features talking clocks and giant vegetables.
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