Book Review: William Gaddis’ “J R”


This week I checked our J R by William Gaddis, and afterward, I started thinking. Well, obviously I was also thinking while I was reading; we are talking about Gaddis after all. What I mean is that I started thinking about a very particular item. [ed note: I posted a link to the version of J R I think David should buy to, you know, truly get the "Gaddis-feel" of the novel.]

I realized that I was in a somewhat less than common position. This being the third book by Gaddis that I’ve read, I’m actually in a position to compare some of his work. Though I don’t think it is a horribly big deal to be familiar with The Recognitions, Agapē Agape, and J R, I don’t think that very many of my friends have read multiple books by Gaddis. As such, I thought I should take the time to compare them a little.

I was surprised to find that, after having read The Recognitions and Agapē Agape, that Gaddis could actually be funny. Mind you, it isn’t like The Recognitions or Agapē Agape are the appropriate places for humor. Still, J R is a riot. It may not get as sublime, in my humble opinion, as The Recognitions, but it is definitely a very different sort of book.

Frankly, I am a little confused as to why J R did not receive a more warm critical reception when it was first published. I would think the humor would go over well. Also, I found it to be the most approachable Gaddis work I’ve read yet. Sure, it is primarily unattributed dialogue that isn’t set apart clearly from straight narrative and it jumps around without any specific indicators that I could see between times, places, and characters.

However, I had very little trouble figuring out what was going on. It is still Gaddis, and therefore you will still have to do some work, but I think J R is a much easier path for a newbie into Gaddis than either The Recognitions or Agapē Agape (though I would still recommend all three).

In the end, I am admittedly far from a Gaddis scholar. I just like reading his stuff. All three of the Gaddis works that I’ve gotten into are well worth the time, each for different reasons. J R is just funnier and easier to figure out than the other two I’m familiar with. I just thought that was worth sharing.



David Atkinson David Atkinson

David S. Atkinson is the author of "Bones Buried in the Dirt" (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K) and "The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes" (EAB Publishing). His writing appears in "Bartleby Snopes," "Grey Sparrow Journal," "Interrobang?! Magazine," "Atticus Review," and others. His website is and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.

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  • hi

    I’m actually pretty surprised you didn’t expect the humor . . . while J R is obviously a whole lot more consistently funny than The Recognitions, that book is laugh out loud worthy in at least a couple places, imo.

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