Another new edition of William Gaddis' "The Recognitions" raises my hopes that one day I'll finish the sprawling novel.
The esteemed New York Review of Books is republishing Gaddis' 1955 novel about art and artistic authenticity, with a new introduction by Tom McCarthy and an afterword by William Gass, presumably Gass' introduction of a previous new edition.
My thick paperback edition of "The Recognitions" sits on my hallway bookshelf, biding me to pick it up once more.
I've possessed the book since 1972, when I took it with me on my first trip to New York City along with my Yamaha acoustic guitar, which I quickly pawned. I read the visible tome on a bench in Central Park, hoping to attract girls with my intellectual cool. Exhausted after tramping around the city all day, I struggled to make sense of Gaddis' writing before falling asleep in my Spartan hotel room near Times Square.
Through the years, I've tried to finish the complex novel many times. I’ve also tried to read Gaddis' subsequent novels "JR," "Carpenter's Gothic" and "A Frolic of His Own." Gaddis remains my great unread novelist.
The new edition spurs me to try again. Each time I pull out the old paperback, I flash back to that moment when I was a young boy on the midnight flight to New York City, seeing those magical lights as the plane descended.
Speaking of complex novelists, thinking about Gaddis makes me wonder if Thomas Pynchon, now 84 years old, will publish another novel. As with Don DeLillo, Pynchon's books have been hits or misses over the years. But the nation could use a new Pynchon novel these days.
Here is a poem about my first days in New York City, and Europe.
Manhattan bars in late afternoon.
October’s light streaming
through sidewalk windows,
men in fedoras rushing by on the other side,
women who looked like Audrey Hepburn in “Charade.”
Girls at the jukebox remembered Antwerp in summer.
I took the red eye from Houston;
the great city lay spread out before me
when the cab crossed the Triborough Bridge.
Autumn of William Gaddis’ “The Recognitions”;
the sun disappeared early behind tall buildings.
At MOMA, Picasso’s “Guernica” buckled my knees;
on 42nd Street, porn of all flavors.
Elizabeth Ashley in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,”
Keir Dullea, not tempted by those luscious lips;
white slip, her sweet summer body.
I called a number in the Village Voice.
A woman’s sleepy voice said no, there was no party.
A stripper in D.C., wearing nothing but a Yankees cap.
Her skin glowed with the same luster as those Midtown dives.
I fled when beer bottles rattled across the floor.
Was she something worth fighting for?
In Spain, later that season
Franco’s soldiers glowered in rail stations,
clutching machine guns, wearing cartoon hats.
Sleepless at midnight, I prayed to mountains
rushing past beyond the train window.
At the Rivera’s topless beaches, sun burned my skin.
the women laughed, and plunged into the sea,
their words riding above the waves rushing toward me.