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A Frolic of His Own

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,067 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
With the publication of the "Recognitions" in 1955, William Gaddis was hailed as the American heir to James Joyce. His two subsequent novels, "J R" (winner of the National Book Award) and "Carpenter's Gothic," have secured his position among America's foremost contemporary writers. Now "A Frolic of His Own," his long-anticipated fourth novel, adds more luster to his reputa ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published February 10th 1995 by Scribner (first published 1994)
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Community Reviews

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Towards the end of the novel, Christina (one of the clearest ripostes to the contention that Gaddis’ oeuvre lacks strong, admirable female characters), states in one short line a summation of the core of every one of Gaddis' books. They are:

“about failing at something worth doing because there was nothing worse for a man than failing at something that wasn’t worth doing in the first place simply because that’s where the money was, it was always the money…”

Wyatt in The Recognitions, Edward Ba
MJ Nicholls
J. Franzen says about A Frolic of His Own that “its only aesthetic weakness, really, is that much of it is repetitive, incoherent, and insanely boring.” Repetitive? No but listen there are about 600 pages here of unstylised dialogue where the protagonists use the same phrases ad nauseam and run-on sentences like we do in life what else did you say, Franzen? Incoherent? No but listen there is a plot here, a satirical plot about lawsuits and an avaricious professor and listen did you remember to p ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

Justice? --You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.

One of the greatest opening lines in the history of the novel.

Why does Gaddis choose such an easy target for his wit and satire, the law and its attendant system of legalism and legalese? To save the language. The language of the law is opaque to most of us not versed in it. But as with any technical and conventional language it is precise, addresses directly and clearly the phenomena, difficulties, concepts, REALITY w
Jan 09, 2012 Ali rated it really liked it
So you know how Gravity's Rainbow is basically about boners, right? Sure, a lot of other things happen, if they didn't, the book wouldn't be nearly as (in)famous, but let's not be too pretentious here, it's mainly about boners. Few pages go by without a reference to penises or vaginas, either symbolic, or literal, and often both at once. In the same way that GR is about erections, A Frolic of His Own is about lawsuits.

There is a review which summarises GR in one sentence. All it says is:
Sentimental Surrealist
May 05, 2015 Sentimental Surrealist rated it really liked it
Shelves: collection
Pynchon isn't the only preeminent postmodernist subjected to a (largely un-postmodern) "major work"/"minor work" dichotomy. If you believe the word on the street about Gaddis, the big ones are the Recognitions and JR, and the lesser ones are Carpenter's Gothic and this one, with this one getting a little more "major-Gaddis" cred because of its quasi-iconic first sentence. And if you look at my ratings, you might think that I'm on board that train as well; I do, after all, have this book rated a ...more
Dec 15, 2015 Hadrian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american, fiction, gaddis
Oh god this is amazing. I'm exhilarated and unabashedly proud I could finish something by Gaddis. The legalese alone is excellent, hilariously absurd - probably the best lampooning of the whole profession in years. I particularly enjoyed the 'dog in the statue' opinion.

Of course, this leaves several hundred pages of book left. This, too, has its own sultry charms. The prose is thick and thorny with references, and almost wholly dialogue, with an occasional descriptive sentence tossed in to help
Aug 10, 2007 Alex rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all you misanthropes
Outstanding, hilarious, and almost overwhelming at times. A Frolic of His Own trains William Gaddis' satirical eye on America's litigious culture. It presents a world in which everyone is suing someone for some perceived wrong and demands of justice are really just weakly disguised grabs for cash. The legal system is supposed to offer order and reliability to this chaotic existence, but the disarray in which all these characters live makes clear the chasm between the theory and the practice. Tr ...more
Jeremy Hornik
Nov 21, 2010 Jeremy Hornik rated it it was amazing
Shelves: keepers, favorites
Oh my God this book is hard to read. Gaddis not only knows a lot of words, he's happy to leave out the quotation marks to indicate someone is speaking. (Incidentally, every book I've ever read that left out quotation marks was brilliant. They have to be, because they're practically unreadable.) Anyhow, it's brilliant. There's a legal opinion that is dry, dry, dry and hilarious, and there's deep sadness and crushing emotion, and it made me read (eventually) every other book Gaddis wrote.

PS They'r
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 David Lentz rated it really liked it
I read Frolic after JR and The Recognitions of which I was more impressed than Frolic. It's amusing to watch Gaddis skewer the legal profession -- I can think of few professions more worthy of it -- but while he addresses the national feeding frenzy of greed associated with litigation his characters fail to capture much empathy as they were more hideous in many cases than their legal representatives. Consequently, I found myself detached from main characters and unsymapthetic to their sordid fat ...more
Oct 29, 2015 Alex rated it it was amazing
A Frolic of His Own is more difficult than The Recognitions, less difficult than JR and way less difficult than Carpenter’s Gothic, which I found impenetrable. Punctuation is only the tip of the iceberg that the reader has to plow through to reach appreciation of this comic masterpiece. Numerous subplots, an epic cast of characters, Latin and legalese, whiplash shifting of POV (perhaps it’s the shifting of no point of view), the integration/interruption of the main narrative with background soun ...more
Jan 27, 2011 Rissi rated it it was ok
Sloughed through 372 pages of this and just can't find motivation to read the last 130 or so pages. Not only is the avant garde, or Gaddis's personal idiosyncratic stream of consciousness and to heck with conventional conversation and punctuation, extremely off-putting and difficult, the "frolic" takes place in mid-1980s, which (and I was there) were boring, banal, and otherwise a pain to live through, he puts us through it again. Only thing missing is the bad music.
I'm complaining also about th
Jeff Bursey
Jul 13, 2011 Jeff Bursey rated it really liked it
A Frolic of His Own marks William Gaddis returning to top form, after the disappointing Carpenter's Gothic (which would be very fine if written by someone else); it's more in keeping with the expansiveness of The Recognitions and J R.

Formally inventive, funny, and angry, here it seems that Gaddis has gone down even deeper into a bitter well. Between these covers resides a play, multiple lawsuits, legal judgements, transcripts of court testimony, a pastiche of "Hiawatha" used to describe life in
Maya Lang
I have no idea how to rate this novel, which flummoxes more than it charms. I appreciated Gaddis' maneuvers and techniques but did not feel moved by them, sort of like when eating a meal prepared with great artistry that doesn't actually taste good. Some highlights: the novel opens with several pages of streaming dialogue in which no character is introduced or explained, so all must be deduced from context. This is followed by a lengthy court ruling, which in turn is followed by a play. Gaddis i ...more
Oct 16, 2011 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: authors-i-like
One of the best. A sometimes tongue in cheek, sometimes blatantly funny, and always deadly serious look at our litigious society. Love, family, racism, greed and WASPs! Perfect. I've discovered Gaddis via David Foster Wallace. Style and substance always an understatement. Thanks again, DFW. Did I mention philosophy and religion?
Nov 03, 2007 Tempest rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: conscientious folk
A masterfully written novel where everything from the language to the props to the background is crafted to create a sense of chaos in a world striving for order. Tense...nerve-wracking...frustrating... Gaddis employed all his skills to create a satire on American culture that makes you both love yet deeply despise the characters you are reading about.
Mercurialgem that possible? I just can't rate it a 3 but 2.5 seems too comes close to a 3 so making it 2.75

Want to add that I did like the book but didn't enjoy it as I think I would have if it was a movie. From the very start I pictured Woody Allen as Oscar for some reason. I looked it up and no it hasn't been made into a movie but think it should.

I have to admit that I did skip some parts, for example, all the legal talk. I wanted to skip the play but I did read it, however, wh
Aug 25, 2008 Chris rated it it was amazing
The most striking trait of A Frolic of His Own is its style. It's a novel told almost entirely in dialogue, and a frantic, careening dialogue at that. At first glance it’s a voice that seems very realistic, very much in tune to the way people actually talk. And Gaddis does have a very keen ear for American dialect, but when the speed of the banter never dips below a boil, you realize his voice is more metaphoric than anything else. Its frenetic pace does more do describe the feeling of American ...more
Feb 07, 2016 Konrad rated it liked it
In 'A Frolic of His Own,' Gaddis churns out a slow-burning satire of individuals litigated to the hilt. It's funny, but it's difficult. For some, Gaddis's heavy dialogue, packed with the casual ellipses and broken clauses of common spoken language, may become just as overwhelming, suffocating, as the legal briefs he includes in the book. I encourage those to press on and join me at marveling at his command, his flow and rhythm in imitating anxious conversation. Unfortunately, that not be the onl ...more
Mark Sacha
I’ll begin this entry of praise with a claim that WG, more than any author I know of, most closely reproduces the profaneness and disconnectedness of modern life, American in particular, from the perspective of the better-off, artists, would-be entrepreneurs, clergy and attorneys, each with their own measure of pretense who are engaged in a constant struggle against some looming darkness. Constantly working on some crumbling edifice of ambition and speaking confusedly and without pause, it’s alm ...more
Oct 14, 2014 Max rated it liked it
Shelves: 20th-century
A Frolic of His Own was somewhat disappointing to me not because it was bad, but because it was less than what I expected rightly or wrongly after experiencing the Gaddis of The Recognitions. It was a witty if repetitive satire about the chaotic nature of litigation in America today and the greediness and foolishness of those relying on it for justice, financial gain or simply revenge. Light though relevant subject matter that while fun was less than inspirational.

But Frolic also focused on a R
Jul 14, 2009 Sebastian rated it really liked it
More of an endurance test than a novel, I thought A Frolic of His Own was both the most human and the most exhausting of Gaddis' books.

To begin with, it focuses on a topic near and dear to my heart: the absurdity of the American legal system. The book is satirical, obviously, but the opinions and scenarios contained within are, from my experiences, frighteningly realistic. Gaddis, who clearly immersed himself in the law for some time in preparing this book, completely nails the greed, venality,
Thomas Armstrong
Jun 16, 2013 Thomas Armstrong rated it it was amazing
This was the third book of Gaddis' trio of magnificent books that I've read (I've not read his other two shorter novels yet - but will soon). While I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as JR, and it wasn't as deep as The Recognitions, it was still far and away one of the best novels, in my opinion, written in the past twenty-five years. In The Recognitions he takes on forgery, in JR, capitalism, and in A Frolic of His Own, the legal system. Like all of his great novels, this book is a complete ...more
Dec 12, 2009 Matthew rated it really liked it
An unwieldy, dense, disorienting, often hilarious satire of American litigiousness and the commodification of creativity, in which everyone is suing everyone else (even God). (One character actually owns a Japanese car called the Sosumi.) Like other Gaddis novels, the story is told almost entirely through unattributed dialogue and some interpolated documents (legal briefs, newspaper articles, a rather poor play written by the main character, and so on), with very little narration. It's a world m ...more
Jun 21, 2010 Nathan rated it liked it
I wanted to tackle someone I had heard was a postmodern giant compared to Thomas Pynchon or John Barth...very much a conversation novel, and kind of reminded me of Waugh. The book is unrelenting as it is not partitioned into chapters at just never stops. The story is certainly a satire based on litigious culture in the U.S. including excerpts from a poorly conceived play about the Civil War and verbatim citations of legal briefs, which believe it or not, prove to be entertaining. It too ...more
May 06, 2013 Larry rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: unlazy readers, those who enjoy heller and jk o'toole
Shelves: to-re-read
currently on page 109 and utterly re-flabbergasted at Gaddis's genius. it's a fucking crime that this book, which won the national book award, has barely been read, like his others. the whole library system has only one copy.

ok back to the book.

a comedic juggernaut that allowed me to understand the legal system even as he skewered it. it was strange to find him writing in such a contemporary time... all his books are contemporary to the time they were published... 1955, '76, '85, '94
Brent Legault
Dec 22, 2010 Brent Legault rated it liked it
A work of large genius. Put together by a well-read master who made me feel, at turns, smarter and stupid(er) than I deserve. An old-timer's novel by an old timer who had never let his mind calcify and crust over. Obsessed with a singular passion (Law) which, I think, helped spoil its magic on me. And the tone of high and higher hysteria still rings-a-lings in my ears. But large genius, yes. An American masterpiece. So glad to be done with it.
Jun 23, 2009 Evan rated it really liked it
Hysterical in at least two senses: crazed, dense, rambling, preachy, almost exclusively dialogue-filled, but with a surprisingly intricate plot and thematic structure underlying everything and fully drawn (if occasionally cartoonish) characters. And a lot looser and funnier than "The Recognitions" (the only other Gaddis I've read thus far). Maybe someday I'll take a crack at "JR"...
Jul 23, 2015 Jeremiah added it
Shelves: fiction
I think I've been misunderstanding this novel and its predecessor, Carpenter's Gothic. They're both dense and overlooked, possibly for good reason (?), I'm not sure yet. I think that this novel lacks the spiritual search for meaning that is the underbelly of Gaddis' first novel, The Recognitions. I'll have to read this again with new eyes in the future.
Oct 06, 2012 Rayroy rated it really liked it
This book is damn rich in language, William Gaddis was in a league of his own, American's greatest satirist, and while I'm only half way thourgh with this book it's one that can't be containted to memory all that's in it, and during multiple readings one would always find someting new in it's pages.
Max Nemtsov
Feb 16, 2015 Max Nemtsov rated it it was amazing
парный роман к JR. парный - в смысле они как пара дуэльных пистолетов, и оба - в виски читателю.
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William Gaddis was the author of five novels. He was born in New York December 29, 1922. The circumstances why he left Harvard in his senior year are mysterious. He worked for The New Yorker for a spell in the 1950s, and absorbed experiences at the bohemian parties and happenings, to be later used as material in The Recognitions. Travel provided further resources of experience in Mexico, in Costa ...more
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“Justice? -- You get justice in the next world. In this one you have the law.” 102 likes
“Justice? -You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” 14 likes
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