So in doing a bit of research for this review, I came across this quote:
“In this exuberantly learned bildungsroman ... internationally lauded virtuoso Gass reflects on humanity's crimes and marvels, creating his funniest and most life-embracing book yet.”
If anyone knows Ms. Seaman, please tell her she can borrow my copy of Middle C so she can actually read it. In fact, throw an [b:Omensetter|156188|Omensetter's Luck|William H. Gass|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347246872s/156188.jpg|150721] and a [b:Tunnel|156182|The Tunnel|William H. Gass|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347747854s/156182.jpg|2339956] her way too, because from what I hear Gass ain’t no life-hugger, and the time it would take her to read those three novels in order to reformulate the above sentence is probably still less time than an average Gass-sentence first draft.
I say this because Middle C is dark and uncomfortable, and I would say brave, but at 88 I don’t think Gass is all too concerned about critics anymore. As we are told, this book deals with “variations on a theme”, and in sketching con-tagonist Joseph Skizzel we observe, amongst many things, the pain and meticulous detail that Gass puts into his writing as the same bleak sentence is re-worked over and over: “The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure”, an argument for which the novel presents a powerful case. Don’t take it to the bloody beach with you!
My understanding is that Gass is saddened because he will not be around when the world ends, and this desire is justified because of all the atrocities that man has committed against man. Fair enough- but perhaps it is naïve of me to think that this is a sadness borne of the frustration of trying to imagine a world that just continues after we’re gone (maybe if he hadn’t laboured on Middle C for 17 years this might have been a decent argument). Since this is not something I have ever needed to consider myself, I can’t imagine how it forms, but I’m sure that one of the things you might wish is for everything to end with you, too. We’re trapped in our own heads, the only world we know is our own, we’ll never know what it looks like otherwise, so how dare it exist without us?
As for the end of all future genocide, that might be a bit beyond my powers (!) but at least Middle C could be a well needed call to arms to make some changes in the way we ravage the earth’s resources, which is something that more than bothers me, too. We might easily groan at this tired argument, but we’ll keep hearing it until we do something (I’m on it! Carbon Capture! Way of the future!).
Only four stars and not five, because I do not and will not concur- as an amateur reviewer, I’m pretty sure that’s not how the star system should work, but they are my stars to award as I see fit! Anyway, nor do I imagine many goodreaders will agree with Gass. Why do we keep reading, why do we take chances on new authors, why do we even try our own hand at writing, if we truly believe that in today’s world art can no longer exist? Still, I think we too have often wondered if there is space for more art, if the core of humanity is truly evil, if it is all worth it, and why would these questions ever arise if we could simply dismiss them? However, it makes it no less shocking when someone with Gass’ wisdom and experience chooses to confirm these worries, and you’re put in the position of arguing yourself back into your comfortable bubble of optimism again- which I did pretty quick smart cause I didn’t like it out there!
One of the greatest joys of reading, as we know, is when you read something that so eloquently puts together your subconscious stirrings so that they can become your way of thinking. One of the most disturbing things is when you wanted to leave those thoughts where they were. Either way, I think you become a stronger person from it, but you won’t catch me recommending this book to anyone.