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Middle C

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  650 Ratings  ·  160 Reviews
Gass’s new novel moves from World War II Europe to a small town in postwar Ohio. In a series of variations, Gass gives us a mosaic of a life—futile, comic, anarchic—arranged in an array of vocabularies, altered rhythms, forms and tones, and broken pieces with music as both theme and structure, set in the key of middle C.

It begins in Graz, Austria, 1938. Joseph Skizzen's fa
Hardcover, First Edition, 395 pages
Published March 12th 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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Mar 25, 2013 s.penkevich rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fakers and phonies
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
What was truly shocking about his collection was not how many humans were reported murdered, but how many murderers were humans.

Is our identity a product of our history? Do we bear the burden of our fellow man? How do we go about our lives free of guilt, free of the filth that we see all around us? Following the life of Joseph Skizzen, a former Austrian whose father’s penchant for rotating identities landed him in America as an unlisted immigrant, William H. Gass’ third novel, Middle C explore
Apr 10, 2013 Megha rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews

"If someone asks me, “Why do you write?” I can reply by pointing out that it is a very dumb question. Nevertheless, there is an answer. I write because I hate. A lot. Hard." - William H. Gass

So everyone knows that Gass will be turning 89 soon. Instead of spending his 80s sitting in a rocking chair on his porch and yelling "Get off my lawn." at the neighborhood kids, he was writing. This. He was writing this beautiful, complex and nuanced work for last several years, diligently honing and perfect
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Mar 26, 2013 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis rated it it was amazing
The quip, what a novel is: a) something in prose (and we expect a bit of poetry thrown in, too) b) of a certain length (and here “certain” means “indeterminate”) [AND] c) which has something wrong with it.

Gass’s Middle C can thusly be understood as a perfect novel. Or nearly perfect because we are not quite sure whether there is enough wrong with it. One might insist that all novels have their “flaws” and I would concede. But what is a “flaw” in relation to a thing which by its very nature is im
Apr 24, 2013 Jenn(ifer) rated it it was amazing

A note about the plot:

Meet Joseph Skizzen. Or is it Joey? Or is it Professor Skizzen? It seems that even Joseph can't decide who he is, so how is the reader supposed to choose? I liken these discrepant parts of Joseph's persona to the Freudian tripartite of the id, ego & superego. Joey is the id -- he's the childlike part of Joseph's psyche, while Professor Skizzen is the superego, or the conscience.

But what if your entire superego is a lie?

How can anyone have a strong sense of self if one i
Mar 22, 2013 Geoff rated it it was amazing
I’m certain other folks will come along and write up lovely long reviews of Middle C; it’s certain that it’s happening now actually. Nick's is great. Look for Kris's or Nathan's or Ali’s or Megha’s or countless others. Has MJ read this? They’re good people spreading the good word, go give them a “like”, it’s just a click away. But my eyes are tired, there’s this dull pain in the front of my skull and I might be going blind from reading books. That would be the end of a world for sure. Losing sig ...more
...he would like to have looked out on it a little like God on the first day and observed the mess we had made of ourselves, and seen spread out over infinity a single placid sea of shit. He would have liked to be there at the end to find accounts rendered and justice done.
Given a choice of passing a single verdict on entire human race and humanity based either upon the right choice of words or right choice of music, what would you possibly choose? Professor Skizzen might convince you that suc
Nick Craske
Aug 11, 2014 Nick Craske rated it it was amazing
Review of the 2012 New York Alfred Knopf uncorrected proof.

Middle C
William H. Gass
396 pages

‘A literary event —the long awaited novel, almost two decades in work, by one of the most revered American writers of our time, author of the universally acclaimed The Tunnel’

But you already knew that…

If Michael Silverblatt describes The Tunnel as ‘A bleak, black book... Engendering awe and despair’ then Middle C is ‘a spirited and symphonic book, affirming life and individuality’.

It is brilliant.
MJ Nicholls
Aug 20, 2013 MJ Nicholls rated it it was amazing
Recommended to MJ by: Megha
Shelves: novels, merkins
This last novel from Gass, who moved from American Master to Worldwide Genius status with his opus The Tunnel, is a dusty and wistful elegy of small-town creak, soul-torn skiffle, and melancholy hurt. Skizzen is the protagonist, a mere “sketch” of a man whose quietly desperate rise from C-grade student and library assistant to bluffing and fearful music professor is chronicled here in full Gassian splendour: a prose that thrives on melody. Gass is the most musical stylist alive: his sentences da ...more
David Lentz
Jun 29, 2013 David Lentz rated it it was amazing
Gass once wrote that he sought the world in a word. It is worthy of note that in this novel he seeks a symphony amid the cacophony in "Middle C" and seeks to hear the music so defined as much by stops and silences as by tone and atonality.
If there were a handful of novelists from this era whom I would strive most to emulate, William H. Gass would be one of them along with William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon and John Barth.
This writing is exquisite, elegant, true and even breathtaking in its use of l
Apr 10, 2014 Gregsamsa rated it it was amazing
WARNING: This review will make NO reference to that 30-something-year-old Paris Review interview William Gass did, quips from which seem to be the required keys to all subsequent reviews of his work. Instead, one from an interview with John Madera:

"There’s a war going on between people who believe in universals and people who don’t, or Aristotle who’s always so nicely in between, who said that the universal does not exist apart from the particular. It is the structure of the particular."

Middle C
Jun 21, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-novels
I’ve taken my time reading this; mainly because I didn’t want it to end. Gass is a master craftsman; you can drift along so easily in the prose that you don’t realise how good it is. Gass plays with words with a light touch and even makes up/develops a few (gossipacious anyone? According to my spell-check it isn’t a word!)
One of the central themes is clearly identity. Our protagonist has several identities, indeed names. Joseph/Joey Skizzen (Yussel Fixel briefly thanks to a father who thought th
Middle C is a World War II novel, but I think it is a disservice to classify it immediately as such. Most novels I come into contact with that have been labeled that way are melodramas that happen to use the war as a way to give depth to an otherwise pedestrian plot of people coming and going and coming back (or not) again. While there is a certain amount of that here, the twist with this one is that the going and coming takes place almost entirely inside the head of one person, rather than amon ...more
Apr 08, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
“Honey, you are a baby in this world and don't know how to howl yet.”
― William H. Gass, Middle C


All the world was a stage. But not for all the world.

Another great author I backed into. Don't misinterpret me. I haven't just run backward over/into Gass. I haven't just "discovered" or "uncovered" the author. I've quoted him often. I've admired him and scanned used bookshelves for him. In my collegiate years I presumed to know more about Gass than I had a right to presume. I've carefully kept The T
Scribble Orca
Aug 17, 2013 Scribble Orca is currently reading it
Recommended to Scribble by: Jenn(ifer)
The orchestra is finishing the last of its warm-up exercises. A diminutive figure walks on stage, to scattered applause, bows slightly to the audience, turns to the orchestra and taps a baton lightly on the bar of the podium before raising gloved hands. A certain quiet is descending throughout the concert hall...

Miriam*, whom Joey Skizzen** thought of as his mother, Nita, began to speak about the family’s past, but only after she decided that her husband was safely in his grave.

His frowns could
Aug 01, 2013 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Asserting that readers either love or loath William Gass’ fiction is probably hyperbolic. Nonetheless, his readership does seem polarized, falling into two groups, one of which is entranced with his use of language and creativity of plot, the other having no patience for what it perceives as his self-indulgent rambling and deliberate teasing of the reader. Count me in the group that cannot get enough of him, that returns again and again to his novels and essays, that finds his impish manipulatio ...more
May 18, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
What was most extraordinary about this novel, I think, was how subtle its meta/PoMo qualities were: the unreliable narrator; unreliable/meta text itself; and the threading of the central metaphor through plot, character, essay and style...Its subject matter was the same that has obsessed Gass throughout his novels - the mundane, average, everyday roots of all the violence and horror in the world. The betrayal and the hypocrisy displayed by Joseph at the end of the novel is a more subtle reflecti ...more
May 08, 2013 Hadrian rated it really liked it
A thick lyrical offering by William Gass. It would be a mistake for this to be called a 'novel', but a collection of fractal ideas, torrents of raging bile told so eloquently that it seems sweet, and a musical alliterative prose style.

Our 'protagonist', Joey-Joseph-Professor Skizzen, moves and shifts between his identities, trembling in fear if he is a fake and will be found out. He peppers his lectures with neat little anecdotes, and reading directly from source texts, trying hard not to be dis
Adam Floridia

Me: Guess what? I did not enjoy this book at all.

You: description

Me: Not at all. That’s right, I said it.

You: description

You: description

Me: Please, let me explain. It’s just that, well, I’d never even heard of William H. Gass before. But I got very excited—“Oooh! Another author I’ve somehow missed and now discovered thanks to Goodreads!”—when I read some friends’ reviews like this and this and this. So many five stars! Well, I’m here to balance out the scales.

This being my first time reading Gass, I couldn’t help but have a f
Ian Vinogradus
Oct 07, 2015 Ian Vinogradus rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone who ever imagined Ignatius J. Reilly might grow up as William H. Gass

A Counterfeit Self-Analysis

"The general mood of the work represents, apart from the jesting second movement, a gradual transition from the sternness of the first movement and the lugubrious death-song of the third, to the life-assertion of the last one."

Gass' Caveat to the Sceptical Reader/Reviewer

"Never make a marginal note or a clever remark you will surely regret, and always assume the author is smarter than you are..."


Honey, I'm ready for my popcorn and scotch!

Ballad of a Fa
Mar 22, 2013 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013, owned, gass
I read Middle C with a sense of curiosity. I was initially directed to him along with other postmodernists by a “if you like Dave Eggers you might be interested in..” popup on my internet browser’s search engine. He later turned up in the dirty dozen listed in Jonathan Franzen’s essay, “Mr. Difficult”. Naturally, I thought, look out; this guy is going to be tough. Then I read Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife, which I thought was a bit of a chaotic mess. What I found upon reading Middle C was a smal ...more
Mar 13, 2013 Alta added it
Shelves: unfinished
There are writers one respects and admires, but doesn’t necessarily enjoy reading. Gass—for me—falls into this category. Middle C is an impressive and ambitious novel, which—hard as I tried—I couldn’t finish. The protagonist, Joseph, is the son of an Austrian man who, in order to get his family away from the Nazis, took the identity of a Jewish man, then, when the war ended, disappeared. The family moved from England to America—where Joseph’s story begins.

Like his father, Joseph is a musician—an
Chad Post
Oct 10, 2014 Chad Post rated it it was amazing
Another book that I should re-read after listening to the audiobook . . . And a really good complement to the new Joanna Scott book, both of which involve the idea of reinventing one's self.

Anyway, I was going to give this four stars, but then, in the final chapter, there is this poem:

"The Faculty Meeting"

This is the way we smirk and sigh, lurk and spy, favor buy
this is the way we smile and lie
to prepare for the faculty meeting.

This is the way we bluff our way, fluff our way, gruff our way,
File this one under "Why weren't you better?" The writing, as you would expect with Gass, is brilliant. Parts of the novel were very enjoyable, but the majority of these vignettes left me with an overwhelming feeling of been there done that. Of I swear I've read Gass do this before. And better.
This is the second Gass novel I've read - first was Omensetter's Luck - and I have to say I'm not enthralled by his talents as a fiction writer. Can he write lovely sentences? Sure. Can he put together a droll scene? Sure. Can he deliver a heavy-hitting, stays-with-you novel that you'll want to read again and again? I'd say, "no".

In Middle C, he introduces interesting existential questions, but they're explored in a lukewarm way. Escaping the Anschluss, surviving the Blitz, and then living in sm
Jun 14, 2013 Ben rated it it was ok
In music as well as education, "C" is synonymous with average, mediocre, boring, forgettable. Middle C is found near the exact center of a standard 88-key piano. C major, with no sharps or flats, is the most common and easiest key to play in. Although many musicians prefer more complicated keys, some view composing in C as a challenge: how to make an exciting, compelling piece of music in the most unexciting of keys.

That, apparently, was William Gass' self-imposed challenge. The main character i
Apr 09, 2013 Rand rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fakebookers, frauds, musicians, gardeners
Recommended to Rand by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
The alternating narrative threads converge in a rather pleasing way.

Started reading this one very slow, read half of it in two nights and then dropped the pace to slower than my start so to draw it out. Glad I did. This book is an easy read but not for those who need S*U*S*P*E*N*S*E to turn a page.

Gass uses a light, wry humor to illumine some ugly human truths. Other reviewers here are investigating this text's Meaning. Here I will just make small comments on style.

Too many beautiful sentences
This book was beautiful. I'm not sure that I've ever seen anything so good at the sentence level. A new favorite for the end of 2014.

Justin Evans
Jan 21, 2014 Justin Evans rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Caveat: to my shame, I have not read The Tunnel. But I will very soon. Anyway,

There is a lot of tired silliness in this novel: oh, the impermanence of identity! Ah, the Freudianisms of men's relationships at (*not* with) women! Gee, the constructedness of reality! It must be wonderful to live in the intellectual world of the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, when all these were live, burning issues (including the men at women business? I could be convinced).

And despite all this--seemingly ca
James Murphy
Nov 07, 2013 James Murphy rated it it was amazing
Middle C is a paradox. The idea of the bright ring of the note is both as an accolade, praise, or an award. But it's also a reference to mediocrity. The novel is the story of Professor Joseph Skizzen, who teaches music at a small Ohio college. Because he has no teaching credentials, not even a degree, and because he emigrated to America without documentation of any kind and is necessarily forced to live a documentless life, it's important that he live that life without drawing attention to himse ...more
Leo Robertson
May 05, 2013 Leo Robertson rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewtastic
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.”
—Donna Seaman

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 Omensetter and a Tunnel her way too, because from what I hear Gass ain’t no life-hugger, and the time it w
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William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor.

Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Warren, Ohio, where he attended local schools. He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother; critics would later cit
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“The things that stayed were things that didn't matter except they stayed, night and day, all seasons the same, and were peaceful to a fault and boded no ill but thought well enough of themselves to repeat their presences.” 6 likes
“Nevertheless, it would be prudent to remain concerned. For, like death, IT would come: Armageddon. There would be-without exaggeration-a series of catastrophes. As a consequence of the evil in man...-no mere virus, however virulent, was even a burnt match for our madness, our unconcern, our cruelty-...there would arise a race of champions, predators of humans: namely earthquakes, eruptions, tidal waves, tornados, typhoons, hurricanes, droughts-the magnificent seven. Floods, winds, fires, slides. The classical elements, only angry. Oceans would warm, the sky boil and burn, the ice cap melt, the seas rise. Rogue nations, like kids killing kids at their grammar school, would fire atomic-hydrogen-neutron bombs at one another. Smallpox would revive, or out of the African jungle would slide a virus no one understood. Though reptilian only in spirit, the disease would make us shed our skins like snakes and, naked to the nerves, we'd expire in a froth of red spit. Markets worldwide would crash as reckless cars on a speedway do, striking the wall and rebounding into one another, hurling pieces of themselves at the spectators in the stands. With money worthless-that last faith lost-the multitude would riot, race against race at first, God against God, the gots against the gimmes. Insects hardened by generations of chemicals would consume our food, weeds smother our fields, fire ants, killer bees sting us while we're fleeing into refuge water, where, thrashing we would drown, our pride a sodden wafer. Pestilence. War. Famine. A cataclysm of one kind or another-coming-making millions of migrants. Wearing out the roads. Foraging in the fields. Looting the villages. Raping boys and women. There'd be no tent cities, no Red Cross lunches, hay drops. Deserts would appear as suddenly as patches of crusty skin. Only the sun would feel their itch. Floods would sweep suddenly over all those newly arid lands as if invited by the beach. Forest fires would burn, like those in coal mines, for years, uttering smoke, making soot for speech, blackening every tree leaf ahead of their actual charring. Volcanoes would erupt in series, and mountains melt as though made of rock candy till the cities beneath them were caught inside the lava flow where they would appear to later eyes, if there were any eyes after, like peanuts in brittle. May earthquakes jelly the earth, Professor Skizzen hotly whispered. Let glaciers advance like motorboats, he bellowed, threatening a book with his fist. These convulsions would be a sign the parasites had killed their host, evils having eaten all they could; we'd hear a groan that was the going of the Holy Ghost; we'd see the last of life pissed away like beer from a carouse; we'd feel a shudder move deeply through this universe of dirt, rock, water, ice, and air, because after its long illness the earth would have finally died, its engine out of oil, its sky of light, winds unable to catch a breath, oceans only acid; we'd be witnessing a world that's come to pieces bleeding searing steam from its many wounds; we'd hear it rattling its atoms around like dice in a cup before spilling randomly out through a split in the stratosphere, night and silence its place-well-not of rest-of disappearance. My wish be willed, he thought. Then this will be done, he whispered so no God could hear him. That justice may be served, he said to the four winds that raged in the corners of his attic.” 2 likes
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