“Household Apples”: A Reading

It’s a scandalous to admit and weird to think that it has only been roughly a year since I first discovered how much I adore the fiction of William H. Gass. A glance through the archives of AUFS will show a solitary, fairly short post written about his first novel, Omensetter’s Luck, which doesn’t nearly do adequate justice to the impact his writing has had on me the past year. Friends will testify to the incessant emails and IMs sent to them whose only content, without benefit or hindrance of context or commentary, is a quote of his, sometimes just a phrase, that for one reason or a million pricked my ear. Gass is famous for doing a lot of “pomo” gestures in his writing, especially with regard to the visual elements of the page–how text is laid out, erratic font changes, etc.–but for me, the visual element is subordinate to the aural. His prose has a musical quality to it that I’m not entirely sure I have the tools adequately to describe.

Tonight I finally got around to finishing his short story collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. At some point, I may get around to writing something about the collection. (Or perhaps if one or two of you are interested, we might set up a format by which we can discuss the stories for all the blogosphere to see.) For now, though, I thought I might share a bit of this aural element as a kind of experiment: to see, that is, if it translates, or if it is “just me.” Upon reading for the first time this passage from the collection’s title essay, in a section labelled, “Household Apples,” I immediately raced to the living room, muted the television, and begged my wife to listen as I read it a second. Still wishing to read it again, a third time, I scrambled for the phone so that I might this time record myself. This is all quite self-indulgent, I know, pretentious even, but so be it. I delight in the fact that the reading below, effectively the fourth of the evening, this time might be for you. [Here's a MP3 if for some reason you'd prefer a download.]

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7 Responses to ““Household Apples”: A Reading”

  1. Brad Johnson Says:

    I read a line like “No caress could have been more indifferently complete,” and my first inclination is simply to hang up trying to write anything of mine own ever again.

  2. Robert Minto Says:

    Very nice reading. Something mesmerizing about Gass: when one reads him aloud it is extraordinarily difficult to understand his paragraphs as whole units, primarily because of the “musical quality” of individual sentences. This makes sense to me, as I’ve been struck, in reading his essays, that he is a writer of the sentence over the paragraph or the scene or the chapter. In his nonfiction he lauds the sentence and loves other writers for their sentences. In his fiction, while his sentences are certainly combined in ways that echo and allude to each other — so densely that a close reading of even a single paragraph of some of his stories is a daunting prospect — there is something monadic about them, as if any one’s reference to another were painted on the inner wall of a completely isolated moment.

    Also, on the subject of musicality: it strikes me that this is related to Gass’s interest in lists. A list is the literary equivalent of variations on a theme, and frequently lists (especially Gass’s lists) make explicit this correspondence in the other features of musicality they display — rhythm, implied dynamics, development leading into complication and relaxing into resolution, all of which can only really be brought out by reading his sentences aloud.

    In short, to your thoughts and your reading I say yea and amen.

  3. Robert Minto Says:

    Have you read On Being Blue yet?

  4. Brad Johnson Says:

    No, I’ve not yet. I did not realize until either yesterday or today, I forget which, that On Being Blue is actually one of his best-selling books. This was at least something he noted in passing during an interview. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things, and plan on reading it soon.

  5. On Categorizing Writers By Their Architecture: Sentence, Paragraph, Scene | Bifurcated Life Says:

    [...] in a comment I mentioned how I think that William Gass’s fiction demonstrates a focus on the sentence [...]

  6. Jim H. Says:

    Gass is a gas! He’s always at the top of my re-reading pile.

    Wait ’til you tackle The Tunnel.


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