XFX: A Frolic of His Own

Because of the length (and complexity) of William Gaddis’s novel, A Frolic of His Own, we have dedicated the entire month of February to its reading and discussion.

William Gaddis is one of the greatest and most original authors in America but during his lifetime he had to struggle for recognition. A Frolic of His Own is Gaddis’s fourth novel and here he takes on the legal system.   In this funny and realistic tale of lives caught up in the toils of the law. Gaddis juxtaposes the cultural values of art, literature, and originality against the dry language of the law and the ever-present power and lure of money.

It seems reasonable to juxtapose A Frolic of His Own up against Bleak House by Charles Dickens. But maybe the distance between the two novels and the society they each represent are too great. It’s been a long time since I read Bleak House and, unfortunately, it’s not the size of book you can do a quick read on so I’ll just leave the comparison up to others that might have recently read Bleak House.

William Gaddis’s first novel was the 900 page plus called The Recognitions. TR is long and complex and was totally misunderstood by the critics. I know how I’d feel if I had written 900 pages of even a mediocre novel so it’s understandable that Gaddis was very disappointed and angry when TR was dismissed by the critics. Twenty years later Gaddis wrote another long book (not as long as TR) which satirized the lure of money in the country. JR is one of the great contemporary novels and Gaddis was finally recognized by the critics.

After JR, Gaddis published two more novels—Carpenter’s Gothic and A Frolic of His Own— and a very interesting fifth novel, Agapé Agape, was published posthumously.

Here is a major American author who you can reasonably expect to read everything he wrote (at least the commercial fiction, when the critics were ignoring him, Gaddis was forced to support his family by writing advertising copy, speeches, etc.)

There is a website dedicated to William Gaddis you shouldn’t miss.

2 thoughts on “XFX: A Frolic of His Own

    1. You might consider purchasing the big ones: that is what I do. I find a 900 page book from the library is either returned unfinished or doesn’t get the attention it deserves as I skim rapidly to finish by the due date (after three renewals).

      I notice (since they send me an email regularly) that Dalkey Archive Press has reissued both The Recognitions and JR. I started my experience with Gaddis by reading Carpenter’s Gothic. It’s short but intense. Then I went on to JR and the rest. Unfortunately I was reading TR on a parlor bus tour of the west and found myself more concerned about breathing in the high altitude than about what Wyatt was up to, so I never finished and the old, roughed-up Penguin edition stands prominently on the shelf mocking me. Soon …


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