Middle C

Seth Colter Walls writes:

If it’s hard to tell what’s going on in William Gass’s fiction that’s because Gass himself doesn’t always know exactly what he’s set in motion. ‘As a fiction writer,’ he said in a 1978 debate with the novelist John Gardner, ‘you hope that the amount of meaning that you can pack into the book will always be more than you are capable of consciously understanding. Otherwise, the book is likely to be as thin as you are. You have to trick your medium into doing far better than you, as a conscious and clearheaded person, might manage.’ From the start, Gass has been tricking his novels into telling him things he didn’t know when he began them. In the 1997 afterword to his first novel, Omensetter’s Luck (1966), he says that he rewrote it from scratch after the initial draft was stolen by a jealous colleague. In the process he realised that the book, set in Ohio in the 1890s, shouldn’t have been about the charming and easygoing Brackett Omensetter at all but rather the ignoble Reverend Jethro Furber. It was a transformation the aspiring novelist didn’t see coming, even as he was resurrecting the text.

(LRB 9 May 2013)

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