William Gaddis published four novels during his lifetime, immense and complex books that helped inaugurate a new movement in American letters. Now comes his final work of fiction, a subtle, concentrated culmination of his art and ideas. For more than fifty years Gaddis collected notes for a book about the mechanization of the arts, told by way of a social history of the player piano in America. In the years before his death in 1998, he distilled the whole mass into a fiction, a dramatic monologue by an elderly man with a terminal illness. Continuing Gaddis's career-long reflection on those aspects of corporate technological culture that are uniquely destructive of the arts, Agape Agape is a stunning achievement from one of the indisputable masters of postwar American fiction.
Published after his death in 1998, this final novel by Gaddis is a brief but noteworthy commentary on the state of creativity and the arts at the close of the 20th century. Gaddis has compressed 50 years of research on the social history of the player piano into a novel narrated by a dying elderly man who is as concerned with his own physical collapse as he is with his piano-based literary project. Gaddis's cultural jumping-off point is the late 19th and early 20th century, as he explores the coincidence between the advent of techniques of reproduction that made mass-produced art possible and the drop-off in artistic participation by hobbyists and ordinary people that soon followed. The title captures much of the essential concept, referring to the unique sense of wonder that arises during the creative process and that is now missing from our daily lives. As usual, Gaddis's avant-garde style requires patience and staying power from readers, who must parse long, elliptical sentences that wander from idea to idea while barely advancing the narrative. But his thoughts and ruminations remain fascinating and challenging, particularly when he manages to briefly focus his ramblings on such subjects as the publishing process, the nature of performing, the rise of such iconoclasts as Glenn Gould and the fractures that are beginning to appear in the fabric of cultural civilization as we currently know it. The brevity of this volume makes it relatively accessible for those new to this author (a cogent afterword by Joseph Tabbi helps too), and literary mavens who have followed Gaddis's career will mark this book as a brilliant closing effort from a groundbreaking novelist. (Oct. 14) Forecast: The publication of Agape Agape and the simultaneous release of The Rush for Second Place (Penguin), a collection of Gaddis's nonfiction, may spur reviewers to offer fresh overviews of Gaddis's career. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.