Absurdly logical, mercilessly real, gathering its own tumultuous momentum for the ultimate brush with commodity training, JR captures the listener in the cacophony of voices that revolves around this young captive of his own myths. The disturbing clarity with which this finished writer captures the ways in which we deal, dissemble, and stumble through our words - through our lives - while the real plans are being made elsewhere makes JR the extraordinary novel that it is.
©1975 William Gaddis (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
If it weren't for Audible I'd never get any reading done.
This is a sprawling, weird novel consisting almost entirely of dialogue. I usually follow audiobooks by leapfrogging with a paper copy which I read when I have time. This novel is actually easier to follow on audio, since Nick Sullivan does a very good job giving each character an idiosyncratic accent. On the page it can easily become just a sea of words.
As a novel it's certainly not for everyone, a withering critique of American capitalism told mostly through a little boy's farcical creation of a virtual financial empire made of leveraged purchases of bad businesses, with a frustrated writer and an aristocratic beauty the only ones who can see through it. It's also a bit of an historical artifact, giving us little bits of life in 1970's New York and Long Island. But it's a classic of 20th century American literature, sort of a cross between Ulysses and Doonesbury.
Nick Sullivan deserves an Audie Lifetime Achievement Award for this book alone. It is a genuine tour de force of voice acting--he probably plays over 200 different roles in the course of this challenging but entertaining novel, most of which is told in snatches of dialogue. He manages to be convincing as everyone from a New York dowager in her eighties to eight year-old boys and girls, as well as lawyers, doctors, teachers, cops, politicians, ad men, low lifes, members of high society, preachers and sinners, and dozens more. It's a long book, but I found Sullivan made it far easier to follow the story than I was ever able to when I tried to read the book. Bravo, Mr. Sullivan!
This is the first example of "literature as an art form"
writing that I can ever remember actually enjoying. And I really, really liked this. I never came across anything quite like it, before. And just how much the narrator was
responsible for how much I liked it...maybe more than 50%. Nick Sullivan truly
deserves the word "incredible" to describe how he carries this story from start to
finish. I've never heard of or read William Gaddis before listening to Mr. Sullivan
doing "JR". By this reading, Gaddis seems like a giant of American letters, a
genuine master artist of the written word.
If you insist on straightforward plotting and rapid pace...forget it. The work is looong
and meanders along routes that don't appear on any literary maps. But it does move
along. Its sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes pessimistic, sometimes
uplifting...but for me, it was never dull. Mr. Gaddis and Mr. Sullivan combine to
produce as honest and entertaining a picture of the American dream as I've ever read.
There is no author more suited to the audio experience than Gaddis. His style largely skips over the typical structure of narrative and is meant to make you feel like you are overhearing conversations. So in audio, things are much easier to keep clear because you get different voices. I have read JR, and now listened to it, and I prefer the audio. Hilarious, outrageous, witty, all that blah blah blah. Of course, many of these characters are annoying and the whole thing feels long if you don't take some breaks, and the satire gets a bit too obsurd as it builds, but there is no book like JR. Sullivan is brilliant on this book. He hits every moment just right. This plot line, you should notice, follows that of Mozart's Ring Cycle (a joke from the book- I'm not an idiot), and of course, could never really happen, probably. This book is a more taxing "read" than most and you will have to bring something to it. A lot of references may go over your head, but could be looked up. Gaddis did eventually write a book about technology and art titled "Agape, Agape!", by the way, which is a tidbit you may enjoy knowing. You may know just how a few characters feel wading through junk mail, and the idea of schools taught by TV screens is less far fetched nowadays maybe. Not for everyone but if you're tired of books all being the similar experience and playing by the same rules, than go for this one. "The Recognitions" is a superior book, but this is a better audio book, and both are well worth the effort.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
How do you rate this adequately heh? Four stars allows that humanity (or Gaddis) might reach a little higher, dance a little quicker, squeeze a little more juice out of the GD lemon, but sitting here now it also seems like I would have to go and downgrade all previous fours if I only gave it four stars. Five it must be. Besides, if I rate it as five now, I can always downgrade it later, after reading The Recognitions* and use the carry-forward star loss to offset the capital gains on my outstanding shares of stars.
I'm not sure my wife loved it, since it proved once and fore..., well unequivocally, that I'm a bad father yes, inadequate husband yes, don't sleep much hey and this may be (let all the F+ing challengers just try and knock it down) my GD favorite GD books in the whole GD world. This morning, with 100 pages left, part of me just wanted to loop the SOB and start reading it again once I finished. That 3am euphoria has since passed, luckily.
Recommendation to friends who read this after me ... try to read about 200 pgs/day, because GDs this book almost requires you read it GD fast. I read somewhere online (yes there it is GD Paris Review**) that Gaddis said the secret to reading J R was "it was my hope -- for many readers it worked, for others it did not -- that having made some effort they would not read too agonizedly slowly and carefully, trying to figure out who is talking and so forth. It was the flow that I wanted, for the readers to read and be swept along -- to participate. And enjoy it. And occasionally chuckle, laugh along the way." Well, GD, the flow thing kinda works. It also helps that I have a GD series 7 and the financial stuff all made perfect f+ing sense.
Pay attention to your life.
Reading or listening to a work of genius is more than enjoyable.Given our times, we don't really have a word for a book (or any art) that asks for your total effort to enter it, fills your world when you are in it, and changes you forever by having read it. "Edutainment" is banal and pompous. "Enthralling" is dumb. "Transformative" sounds like psychobabble.
Takes lots of energy; gives even more back.
Gaddis never had our tragically-hip, soul dead irony of pretending never to believe in anything. Whatever...he's dead now. It's up to you to decide if he's worth reading.
William Gaddis is a challenging read. Boot Camp for your mind. His writing is also laugh-out-loud-in-the-middle-of-the-night funny, really funny, brilliant, and his genius burns with a dark insight, a life-changing power.
I'll settle by saying _JR_ is partly an apocalyptic combat between artists and businessmen. The artists in JR are sure that high culture and great art (art where enjoyment and big-time beauty takes effort but gives back more than lesser art) are ideals worth preserving and fighting for, despite the fact that their ideals will always be a minority position. Gaddis believed it, and shows you that the ideals are never dead, that they can be real to you...if you want.
Think Zombie Financial Apocalypse. Now imagine the zombies are alive.
Gaddis is often pigeonholed as a "postmodernist writer" by academics. I think it makes more sense to think of him as a highly inventive modernist. He uses spot-on dialogue and monologue--his ear for dialogue is amazing--and frames the narrative exposition by concentrated, lyrical pure poetry, to insert his intensely-imagined characters into narrow plotlines that spiral toward satiric chaos.
In the apocalypse of JR, the struggling heroes Edward Bast, Gibbs, Eigen, and Amy Joubert stand out against the vividly trivial Whiteback, the impotent lawyer Beamish, or the managerial maniac Davidoff. All are absorbed into the slowly-building cyclonic fury of chaos created by sixth-grader J. R. Vansant.
The virtuoso reading of JR by Nick Sullivan cannot be praised enough. Working on Gaddis’s monumental text, Sullivan created a monumentally dramatic and sympathetic reading. Through nuanced accents and precise timing, Nick Sullivan conducts an orchestra of carefully shaped character voices that always persuade the listener to the heart of the book. Nick Sullivan’s reading of Gaddis’s masterpiece is itself a masterpiece. Together, Gaddis’s text and Nick Sullivan’s realization of it deserve more stars than any rating system could provide.
Because there are so many memorable characters in JR, I cannot answer the question of selecting one. So I'll mention two profound influences that other artists had on JR. In structure, the novel carries intentional similarities and allusions to Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle opera. In plot dynamics, it resembles Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
JR is the second of William Gaddis’s great fictional masterpieces. In chronological order, they are: The Recognitions, JR, and A Frolic of His Own. Each of these books is an apocalypse: The Recognitions is an apocalypse of broken integrity, JR a financial apocalypse, A Frolic of His Own an apocalypse of law.
I read this thirty years ago and liked it enough to read every succesessive Gaddis book. Hearing it was even better.
This is a very funny book, especially if you like giving some thought to language and speech. Gaddis was a genius; he may ask a little more of the reader than usual, but it's worth it.
This is the funniest book I've ever listened to. I laughed out loud over and over.
I can't believe it was written in the 70s. With the financial upheaval we have gone through, it is still current.
This book is almost entirely dialogue, without any explanation of who is talking. The narrator takes the work out of following who is talking by keeping the characters straight for us.
This audio version is more like a screen play or a small, local theater production-- done very well. You know, you go to a play at a dumpy local theater expecting not much and the show blows you away. That's what this audiobook is like. It doesn't come at you all fancy but soon you'll be in its grip. To be honest, it is a little slow at first. Give it some time. You'll be richly rewarded.
Rarely am I unpleasantly surprised by finance and law-related books, and never to this degree. As of now, 2016, many years on from its writing, which might have seemed more fresh back then, and given my life experience, I have not heard one original idea or phrasing in a full hour's attentive listening. (The imagery of events outside the dialogue is singularly not special.) Rather than being sprightly and enlightening, or surprising to my ears in any manner, or eliciting even one moment's smile, this prose struck me as leaden.
If I had wanted to listen to characters who were tritely epitomizing, while suffocatingly mired in, their own petty frustrations and smallness of mind, I would have opted for a (for me) pointless "normie" life myself. I have emphatically not, and this feels like having my nose rubbed in it. Perhaps I am unconsciously "postmodern" to the point where this seems ploddingly remedial. Not only would I not listen to this for free, I would have to be paid mightily to expend my precious earth time on another moment of this. The audio sample was listenable and hinted at some reasonable satire. The dialogue (and its performance) does evince some nice effort by the participants, "A" for effort here, the narrator's work particularly is solid, but altogether this package is most redolent to me of the worst dinner theater I have ever suffered through. Sorry, all you who can see more in this than I can. It seems you are many. It could be my blind spot alone. Good luck!
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