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Sep062009

1994

A Frolic of His Own  

By William Gaddis

Original Publisher: Poseidon Press
Current Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)

Harold Augenbraum writes:

My cousin Barry used to say that no one likes a genius (and he would know, being one himself) so no one reads Gaddis’s books any more. Never a word out of place, never a clinker or clunker of a book, he was a comic genius who skewered both reason and ridiculousness in almost equal measures, until you were unsure which is which. “–Justice?–You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” [Please note that the inverted commas are mine: Gaddis eschews them.] That his comedic temperament runs to the absurd is undeniable, Dickensian, with its funny names (the law firm of Swyne & Dour), satires of legalese, torts like sweet petit-fours, evasive depositions that go on for dozens of pages, ad infinitum et absurdum, references to real cases (the crazy Marshall v. Nugent: Look it up, and you can see why Gaddis might think that law cases are truly funny), dialogue on a par with Nick and Nora brandishing their martinis and blandishing their dog. In fact, a dog sits behind much of the action, since he is caught in a public sculpture and trotted out from time to time, like all aspects of lawsuits, to remind the reader that somewhere, somehow, a dog became trapped in a public sculpture, and I was reminded of Art Buchwald’s lawsuit against a Hollywood studio for stealing his idea for a movie, after which the studio’s Byzantine accounting denied him any profit. Even the multiple typefaces add to the fun.

Harold Augenbraum is Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, an editor and translator.


ISBN: 9780684800523

Fiction Finalists that Year:

  • Ellen Currie for Moses Supposes
  • Richard Dooling for White Man's Grave
  • Howard Norman for The Bird Artist
  • Grace Paley for The Collected Stories

Fiction Judges that Year: Timothy Foote, Amy Hempel, Susanna Kaysen, John Casey, Randall Kenan

The Year in Literature:

  • The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Kenzaburo Oe won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information:  

  • This was William Gaddis’ second National Book Award win, and it came eighteen years after his first, for JR.  
  • A Frolic of His Own was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.
  • Before he died of prostate cancer in 1998, Gaddis completed his final work, AgapÄ“ Agape (the Greek agapÄ“ means divine, unconditional love), published in 2002.
  • The Rush for Second Place, published at the same time, collected most of Gaddis's previously published nonfiction.

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