Colleen's Reviews > The Recognitions

The Recognitions by William Gaddis
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's review
Aug 17, 2008

it was amazing
Read in October, 2008

I think this book is about the WWII generation - the 'Greatest Generation' - and all their obsessions and self-absorbed angst about not relating to each other except superficially. It explores the unremittingly puritan upbringing of the main character in his cold New England house with a maiden aunt who firmly believes self-denial is the highest form of Christianity. This is the parent generation that survived the Great Depression. And then the book focuses on his marriage to a woman who has to discuss and dissect every emotion and motive of her family and friends ad nauseum. Everyone has a Freudian analyst that can afford it. No wonder the main character locks himself away in a studio where he paints all night. His big question is, Do we know a genius any better by talking to him? TV hasn't become ubiquitous yet, but there are popular magazine interviews to read.

Gaddis doesn't spare anyone - conversations are quoted from what's overheard on the bus, in restaurants, at drunken cocktail parties - altogether the impression is infinite selfishness and alienation. The main character is described by his mileau, by the people who surround him and are puzzled by him or use him. It's an interesting experiment in writing and a brilliant insight into the 1950s.

Well, I'm done with it. All 900+ pages. Most of the ends are tied up, numerous characters you are introduced to at the cocktail parties are followed to conclusion. Some managed to find a way to actually connect with another person and experience living. Some died or were killed, and some just ended up reaping the rewards of their cheating, posing and fast living. Beats the hell out of any other book for summing up the era that spawned advertising, and 'winning friends and influencing people'. It's a must for understanding who made it to the top of US society today.
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