Middle C.

Author:Gass, William
Position:Book review

By William Gass

William Gass is one of America's great writers of experimental fiction. His work includes In the Heart of the Heart of the Country & Other Stories (1968) and The Tunnel (1995), as well as a number of nonfiction titles. Middle C is an ambitious, meditative academic satire and a study in self-mythology.

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THE STORY: Middle C is in the octave closest to the center of a piano keyboard, a metaphor for the life that talented pianist and mediocre Midwest academic Joseph Skizzen desires. Now approaching old age and contemplating his legacy--and expressing more than a little regret for his past, all of it a sham--Joseph wants little more than "the chance of an unnoticed life." Obsessed with history because of the lies upon which his own identity has been built, Joseph still lives with his elderly mother and keeps an Inhumanity Museum in their attic to remind himself of the atrocities that people are capable of perpetrating. There is nothing easy about Joseph's life--or Gass's rendering of it--as he struggles mightily over the one sentence that, for him, defines experience: "The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure."

Knopf. 416 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780307701633

Kansas City Star *****

"Often dazzling in its beauty and at times frustratingly difficult, Middle C is like no other book that will be released this year or, more likely, this decade. ... The range of the novel and its operatic beauty is a wonder and enriched by Gass' ability to render a range of tones that harmonize seamlessly together." EDWARD HART

Washington Post *****

"Middle C takes its place in that great line of modern novels about inauthenticity, from Andre Gide's The Counterfeiters and Thomas Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man to William Gaddis's The Recognitions and the works of Philip K. Dick. However, there is nothing sham to William Gass's art: It's not just dazzling, it's the real thing." MICHAEL DIRDA

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"An epic and surprisingly triumphant novel about mediocrity and the fear of being found out. ... Like a Beethoven sonata, Middle C introduces, develops, transforms, and resolves a theme, but the ending, an open-ended string of ellipses, drops us into the white noise of vibration--a stylus tracking on the lead-out." DAVID VARNO

Los Angeles Times ****

"At times, he has been all too eager to show off his skills; here he strikes a more subdued, if not...

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