RIP Jonathan Enters a Sentence of William H Gass's Out there by the bare yard the woodshed stood in a saucer of sun where she once went to practice screaming her cries and the light like two cyclists passing on a narrow road, the light coming in through cracks between the sheds warped boards, the ax she wouldnt handle, its blade buried in an ash trees stump the shed had been built around so the stump would still be of service though its tree had had to come down, dad said, it would have a life like an anvil or a butchers block because as long as you had a use you were alive, birds flew at the first blow, consequently not to cry that the treed been cut, groaning when it fell its long fall, limbs of leaves brushing limbs of leaves as though driven by a wind, with plenty of twig crackle, too, like a sparky fire, the heavy trunk crashing through its own bones to groan against the ground, scattering nests of birds and squirrels, but now she was screamed out, thinned of that, or the thought of the noble the slow the patiently wrought, how the tree converted dirt into aspiration, the beautiful brought down, branches lofty now low and broken, the nests of birds and squirrels thrown as youd throw a small cap, its dispelled shade like soil still, at toppled tiptop a worms web resembling a scrap of cloud, it should have been allowed to die in the sky its standing death, shed read whatever there is of love let it be obeyed, well, a fist of twigs and leaves and birdspit rolled away, the leaves of the tree shaking a bit yet, and the web whispering what was left In this review, rather than speak about how great these stories are, and how essential Gass is for anyone interested in words, and what they are capable of doing, instead of that I intend to wander a little inside this long, limpid, convulsing sentence and thereby attempt to gain a little insight into the craft of a Master. As Readers, we should therefore be grateful for those Writers with Egos large enough to let them stand their ground What editorially-transgressive joys can we find in this sentence? "toppled tiptop a worm's web" There is much more, of course, though this suffices to demonstrate the point, not to mention all the consonance, assonance and other evidence of Craft contained in this single, though admittedly long, sentence. It formed a cornerstone of Anglo-Saxon literature, and has remained part of our heritage for over a thousand years, and yet a simple Google search finds hundreds of pages advising aspiring writers to keep it out of their prose, lest they "distance" the reader.
Ella is locked in her insanity and despair and she is absolutely lonely in that prison. Not a life lost, not a thought gone, not a feeling faded, but retained by these things, in the memories they continually encourage, the actions they record, the emotions they represent, not once upon a time, but in the precious present, where the eye sees and the heart beats, and where you clear gutters of leaves whose trees you know and recognize, and you furthermore remember when the soldered copper shone and the roofs slates were reset and how the kitchen will any moment smell of bread like the brightness of the day and where the ladders shadow falls as though it were a sun clock striking three. Bed and Breakfast is a story of a lonely man in the world of things. She learned to ask nothing of the world. When the snow came she didnt sigh at the thought of shoveling. Emma is a captive of poetry, she is an ultimate recluse, she has entirely lost any liaison with the outside world, and theres no way out. The Master of Secret Revenges is a postmodern treatise on vengeance full of exotic outings into religion, mythology, literature and history.
Bed & Breakfast reads like an homage to the nouveau roman movements obsession with interiors and their imprint on consciousnessa travelling accountant flits from B&B to B&B, doting upon the rooms contents (as metaphors for loneliness and the harsh self-sacrifice of fundamentalist Christians?).
If you know the name William H. So is it fair to write a review having only read half a novel, I don't know, but this my third and half(read a little of The Tunnel)by H. I would take leap and say that this falls a little short from his other novels, but it's still better written than most anything you'll read in your whole life.
Few people write as well as William H Gass. I just find reading him unpleasant.
He is a masterful stylist, cunning creator of unique characters, and major theorist of what makes fiction fiction--in other words, in addition to writing beautiful sentences and stories, he's a philosopher/critic of the first order. The four "novellas" that make up Cartesian Sonata are "Cartesian Sonata" itself, "Bed and Breakfast," "Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's," and "Master of Secret Revenges." I confess I'm losing track of what makes the difference between a long story and a novella. I know this sounds pretty abstract, but if you read to the end of this book, plowing through the sordid bordering on rancid "Master of Secret Revenges," you'll find an almost religious outcome in Gass's brooding on the random magic of people, places, and emotions getting mixed up in the mind. Now, I want to add a few biographical details to flesh this comment out: I had never heard of William Gass until I was a sophomore in college and my creative writing instructor, Geoffrey Wolff, announced to me and my fellow students that Gass was one of the most important literary theorists since Aristotle. The deal was closed when I then read a collection of Gass's stories called In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, one of the most compelling, beautiful short stories I've read to this day (many years later.) After graduating, I moved to Virginia and heard that Gass was participating in a literary festival in Lexington at Washington and Lee. He, Donald Barthelme, and Walker Percy were the headliners. Next came the elderly woman who turned out to be a man...William Gass, in fact.
Finishing it, I can now say I have read all of Gass's various books of fictions save his debut, OMENSETTER'S LUCK, which I actually owned (Penguin edition), but never read, and appear to have lost in my dereliction and at-times-too-too-dissolute waywardness. I am here to tell you that CARTESIAN SONATA contains some of Gass's very finest fiction. Because literally nobody is up to talking and thinking like Gass (oh, we sort of are). Sometimes using fiction as a means to doing essays by other means (see especially here "Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's"), Gass almost always writes about American life from the standpoint of an occupying force. It made perfect sense when in his final book, EYES, he started getting inside inanimate objects and telling their stories. The opening eponymous story of CARTESIAN SONATA is itself broken into three sections, and the introductory section inaugurates the book by sanctifying the digressive. Adorably (or I guess, also, you know, chillingly) the resolutely vile narrator-antagonist of THE TUNNEL gets a shout-out early on in the opening piece (as does Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife). You can occupy American life like a looting army and still be very fond of it, still maintain holy reverence. I have already said that "Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's" is the most-essay-by-other-means piece here (they all have a little of that going on). I am going to get fancy and call it "Gass on Hermeneutics." A story about the horizon of she who goes about her encounters, especially her encounters with poetry. We know Gass the essayist. "The Master of Secret Revenges" is the piece where Gass really gets in there, sleeves rolled up, and does Swift. Do you remember that epic, legendary PARIS REVIEW interview where Gass said that he writes for purposes of revenge? I read CARTESIAN SONATA late-October/early-November 2018, shortly before American midterm elections, and encountered the following sentence in "The Master of Secret Revenges": "But the liar who lies long enough, the liar who wants his lie to be the truth, the liar who sees belief in other people's faces, for whom his lie is honey to their ears, is eventually a believer too, sincere as sunshine, clean as stream, faithful, too, as old clubfoot was, to his hope-filled falsehoods, and to Adolph Hitler." I have spoken of William H. Gass: Sentence Guy, correct?
William Howard Gass was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. In graduate school Gass read the work of Gertrude Stein, who influenced his writing experiments. Gass taught at The College of Wooster, Purdue University, and Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a professor of philosophy (1969 - 1978) and the David May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities (1979 - 1999). Since 2000, Gass has been the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Humanities. Earning a living for himself and his family from university teaching, Gass began to publish stories that were selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of 1959, 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1980, as well as Two Hundred Years of Great American Short Stories. In fact, his epic novel The Tunnel, published in 1995, took Gass 26 years to compose.