Literary Judgments and Accounts
By William H Gass
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307595843, 368pp.)
Publication Date: January 17, 2012
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A dazzling new collection of essays—on reading, writing, form, and thought—from one of America’s master writers.
It begins with the personal, both past and present. It emphasizes Gass’s lifelong attachment to books and moves on to the more analytical, as he ponders the work of some of his favorite writers (among them Kafka, Nietzsche, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Proust). He writes about a few topics equally burning but less loved (the Nobel Prize–winner and Nazi sympathizer Knut Hamsun; the Holocaust).
Finally, Gass ponders theoretical matters connected with literature: form and metaphor, and specifically, one of its genetic parts—the sentence.
Gass embraces the avant-garde but applies a classic standard of writing to all literature, which is clear in these essays, or, as he describes them, literary judgments and accounts.
Life Sentences is William Gass at his Gassian best.
William H. Gass—essayist, novelist, literary critic—was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He is the author of two novels, The Tunnel and Omensetter’s Luck, and eight books of essays, including A Temple of Texts, Tests of Time, and Finding a Form. Gass is a former professor of philosophy at Washington University. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, the architect Mary Henderson Gass.
“Gass [is] a first-rate essayist and something of a classicist . . . a major talent [and] an intrepid critic . . . Life Sentences is a roaming collection . . . incisive . . . elegant.”
—Larry McMurtry, Harper’s Magazine
“Life Sentences is much more than occasion to regrind old axes…It’s a moving testimony that, for all his abstract theorizing, Gass, now 87, still knows his way to the heart of a story.”
—Larry Hardesty, The Boston Globe
“Let’s just get it out of the way: William H. Gass can write. I know: That’s not breaking news. Over the course of a half-century, Gass’ beautifully constructed prose has drawn raves, earning him an American Book award, a PEN / Nabokov Lifetime Achievement award and three National Book Critics Circle awards for criticism . . . Gass’ skills haven’t waned with age, either. His new collection of essays written over the past decade, Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts is so agile and well-written it seems to demand a round of appreciative applause every few pages, as if he were a leotard-clad acrobat swinging high overhead.”
—Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Other than praising the book and urging people to read it—and quoting as many elegantly constructed passages as one can get away with—there isn’t much for a book reviewer to do. I can’t even resign myself to giving advice on where to start and what to skip, because Life Sentences is that rare book of essays that has no low points and can be read straight through.”
—Troy Jollimore, The Barnes & Noble Review
“Mr. Gass is an ironist of the highest caliber, a metafictional novelist of the Coover, Barth, Pynchon and Gaddis school. At 87, he is an improbable éminence grise of American letters, festooned with accolades; if there is any justice in the world he will one day get his Nobel prize. When he is not deathly serious with his sly, avuncular delivery of 3-in-the-morning-crisis existential epiphanies, he is hilariously subversive . . . Though he is also a masterful novelist—Omensetter’s Luck (1966) is widely considered a classic—his reputation rests on his criticism and essays . . . As an essayist, his prose is gorgeously musical, ticking along smoothly as if measured out by metronome. He composes miniature fugues and conducts cadenzas while meandering around his subjects . . . [Life Sentences] is a literary miracle.”
—Vladislav Davidzon, The New York Observer
“The pleasures in Gass’ new powerhouse essay collection are heady, varied, and many . . . the philosopher-writer is more frolicsome than ever in his fathoms-deep erudition and purring, stalking, and fencing prose. Gass writes so cogently, robustly, and puckishly about literary, metaphysical, and moral matters because he knows his subjects down to their subatomic particles . . . The brainy, ethical, artistic, and ebullient fun Gass has in this brimming volume will exalt every ardent reader.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred