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Omensetter's Luck

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,591 ratings  ·  184 reviews
Greeted as a masterpiece when it was first published in 1966, Omensetter's Luck is the quirky, impressionistic, and breathtakingly original story of an ordinary community galvanized by the presence of an extraordinary man. Set in a small Ohio town in the 1890s, it chronicles - through the voices of various participants and observers - the confrontation between Brackett Ome ...more
Paperback, 315 pages
Published April 1st 1997 by Penguin Classics (first published 1966)
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3.99  · 
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 ·  1,591 ratings  ·  184 reviews

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… Words were superior; they maintained a superior control; they touched without your touching; they were at once the bait, the hook, the line, the pole, and the water in between.

I’ve always admired the craftsmanship that goes into building a piece of fine furniture or sewing a handmade garment or painstakingly painting a piece of china. I guess you could say William Gass is a craftsman of a different kind, a craftsman of words. It’s remarkable to me how this man took 26 simple letters and creat
Sep 22, 2014 added it
Recommended to Fionnuala by: Tony
Israbestis Tott is like a well, full to the brim with stories.
He draws up stories daily, hourly, first lines spilling from his lips by the minute:
In the mornings, Matt was like a bell...
Omensetter was a wide and happy man...
Furber never listened. He declaimed...
Henry Pimber lay with lockjaw in his bed...

There is the story of Kick’s cat, the story of the man who went to pieces, the story of the high and iron fence. There is the story of the Hen Woods burning, the story of the hunt for Hog Bellm

..when I was a little boy and learning letters — A ..., B ..., C ..., love was never taught to me, I couldn't spell it, the O was always missing, or the V, so I wrote love like live, or lure, or late, or law, or liar.

Omensetter’s Luck is an ode to words. While in most of the fiction writing, the characters, the plot, the beginning, the middle & the end, all gives rise to the words, it’s the other way round in case of this book, and William Howard Gass is a wordsmith and a tough task master.
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-novels
A wonderful postmodern novel set in Gilean, Ohio in the 1890s. Brackett Omensetter arrives in the town with his family. He appears to be at one with the world; I’ve seen the word congruity used to describe his relationship with the world. His wagon is open and rain seems inevitable, but does not come. He moves into a property which is flooded regularly, but while Omensetter is there the land floods around his property, but he remains dry. He disturbs the locals; his landlord, Henry Pimber seems ...more
Sep 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: usa, fiction

Abandoned church near Somerset, Ohio.

This is a strange and almost mystic book, and invites as much dissection and study as some more holy writ.

The story mainly concerns two characters. The first is Brackett Omensetter, "inhuman as a tree", a bearded man-child with almost supernaturally kind and simple personality and 'luck' behind him. The second is Jethro Furber, a tight-lipped man of god whose only companions are dead men and his own warped mind, fixed between doggerel and theology. He spits o
MJ Nicholls
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
In his afterword, Gass kibitzes about the strange route to finally scorch Omensetter’s Luck into print. His original MS was filched by a creepy colleague (a possible candidate for the punning Culp in The Tunnel) and rewritten tirelessly over the unhappy fifties and sixties, with the occasional interlude for prawn-poisoning and Accent success. Eventually the novel appeared in 1966 with help from his friends, falling to earth like a particularly tetchy meteorite. Comparisons to Faulkner, Joyce and ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
"I Know Not Whence...Nor Whither, Willy-Nilly Blowing"

William H. Gass positions words on the page, one after the other. Soon, a sentence takes shape, then a paragraph, then a chapter, then a section, then a novel in its entirety.

The words are not necessarily directional from the outset. A sentence goes in the direction dictated by each additional word. They don’t necessarily follow a preordained sequence or work towards a goal:

"I know not whence, like water willy-nilly flowing...
Nor whither, wi
Word, word, what is a word,
Can it be seen, can it be heard,
down with the fish, up with the bird,
floating obscene, flying absurd?

A [word] is a [word] is a [word].

-Gertrude Stein
A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who, instead of aiming a single stone at an object, takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit.

-Samuel Johnson, lexicographer


Do you see where I'm getting?
Am I not being clear?
I was doing quite well,
May 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dfw-inspired, fiction
According to some interviews and things like that Omensetter's Luck was DFW's favorite books. My own track record with reading DFW-recommended books is hit and miss, sometimes they seem to work out and other times (as in the case of a Curtis White novel) I am just left feeling blah and unimpressed. This book falls into the second category.

Parts of the book are really great and some of the writing is phenomenal but I felt that the whole subject matter of the book just didn't do too much for me. I
This book is elegant madness. Beauty given meaning both because and in spite of life's brutality. Chaos in 300 pages of one gorgeously rendered sentence chasing another and another and another down the spiral of ebbing sanity and diminishing credibility.

The Writer is God. Don't you ever forget that, as this has always been the case. Much in the fashion of a lonely deity or (at the risk of redundancy) a scientific force dividing What a Thing Is in half to create What a Thing Isn't But the Opposi
Stephen P
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you are like me, one who loves the sounds of words, how they sing, sentences that embed in the mind with their craft, this is a book to relish. Phrase after phrase to read out loud, to listen. This is not completely accurate, the story spoke itself out loud to me as I read. It spoke in its voice. This was the voice, it seemed to me, of the work not of the author. All I was required to do was read and listen. Something similar generally happens but it is in the end my voice reading the work in ...more
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Liam Howley
In one way Gilean was more punished than Egypt, he thought, since Egypt was never visited by a plague of lies.

In his first novel, William Gass traverses the Faulkner-Hawthorne territory, with faltering steps in the beginning but by the middle of it; Omensetter's Luck assumes all the tragic intensity and fatalism of a biblical tale.

So what do we have here– small town= small minds; but no, those folks in riverside Gilean, Ohio were doing well enough till one man's bitterness turned the whole town
Nick Craske
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A revelatory sense of wonder awaits anyone who is yet to discover and read this fine novel. On finishing the story I sat in awe; head buzzing with rich and vivid imagery and sounds; the rhythms of speech; the sing-song lilts and verbal ticks of each individual character. Gass's writing is truer and more real than anything I have read. It's a brave book in style and structure —giving over the core of the book to the feverish, and often disorientating, inner thoughts and visions of a disturbed man ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels


Oh the brows that furrowed like broiling cauliflowers – name the names… who first were they?

Garima, M J Nicholls and bashful Ian Graye too, who kept his heart enclosed in heelskin normally, also from Nick Craske- which were a match for the beads…chatoyant…like Christ’s eyes…and from Hadrian and his lovely daughters April Meows Often With Scratching and Jennifer while later on as the night wore on and the watchmen wearied and ginger cookies served and the mumbo
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fionnuala
Shelves: u-s-lit, top-10-2014
It was like this....

A fox got trapped in Brackett Omensetter's well. They could see his eyes looking up. His eyes are like emeralds, they said. That's because they're borrowed from the fire at the center of the earth and they see like signals through the dark. Omensetter's landlord, Henry Pimber, came for the rent, nagged to do so by his wife. He looked down the well, seeing the dim points of red, and his heart contracted at the sight of their malice. Omensetter would have let the fox there. You
Oct 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A strange and gripping work, William H. Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck opens with a short and arresting chapter told from the perspective of a minor character, Israbestis Tott, continuing in the second chapter to tell the story of Henry Pimber, who will be dead by the time the bulk of the novel gets going, the final three-fourths of the book being a vast interior monologue by Gilean, Ohio’s preacher, Jethro Furber, a crabbed Iago-like personage filled with bile, poetry, and sexual fantasies, the crux ...more
Jr Bacdayan
Feb 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Aesthetically speaking, William H. Gass’s novel set in rural Ohio is utterly close to perfection. But in a certain sense, art, if it is to be called a masterpiece should do more than just be perfect in form. It should, as bare as the word is, connect. I absolutely admire the prose, the wordplay, the little poems, and the revolving flow of consciousness in the novel. However, as fine as the form is, I experienced this feeling of disconnect. I was amused, of course, by both the wittiness and the b ...more
Paul Sánchez Keighley
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Why have You made us the saddest animal? (...) He cannot do it, Henry, that is why. He can’t continue us. All He can do is try to make us happy that we die. Really, He’s a pretty good fellow.

This isn’t an easy book to read - but boy is the view along the way pretty. Gass’s alternately high and bawdy stream-of-consciousness rants made me feel at times like I was rereading Gravity's Rainbow . But as much as I love Pynchon’s maddening door-stopper, I don’t think he’s ever written anything half a
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels-english
This is very difficult for me to rate. The first two short parts are magnificent. The long middle third is mostly taken up with the long, rambling stream-of-consciousness logorrhea of Jethro Furber -- a very complex character, in the final analysis, but which is difficult to follow and unravel (though the general outlines are clear enough). The final section brings together all the threads of plot and character and language... and yet, I couldn't help but feel that the magnificent potential of O ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dfw-5, william-h-gass
In lieu of a traditional review, let me offer some advice to the prospective reader on getting through the Reverend Jethro Furber (who is, of course, the real main character here)'s Change of Heart...

1. Don't worry; it all coalesces, and not just thematically but into a plot as well. The first seventy-five pages, which are the most difficult part of the monolog, do more to set up themes, foreshadow future conflicts, and analyze the Reverend's motivations than they do move the story forward in a
Mar 24, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: fiction, us, 20-ce
This book satisfies on a word by word basis. By that I mean, that every word is a mini-thrill all by itself. The running flow of the narrative Is near miraculous.
Ian Scuffling
People often Romanticize the sentiment of having read an incredible book as the book having “found” a person “at the right time.” This also leads to things like, when reading an especially well-considered book and not enjoying it, it gets chalked up to right book, wrong time, etc. Personally, I’m mad as hell that William Gass hadn’t “found” his way into my reading career until 2018, because I sure could have used his wit and prose for a bit of fun when I was stuck reading middle-of-the-road shit ...more
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
So, this Gass guy can write a sentence, hey?

Quick notes:

-how do you feel when you're doing your level best? You're not drinking too much or fornicating out of turn. You're not stealing, lying or cheating. You're active and engaged. You're helping others, even when your acts embitter by creating unwanted debt, ground gratitude: a loathing birthed of need. The gaze of the other and your own compulsions drive you to do more, to be better. how do you feel? When people look to you for the answers? y
Justin Evans
Apr 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Apparently I've been delegated to write the dissenting opinion on this one. I first read it in college and was so unimpressed that I gave the book away (a bad idea in retrospect, it's nice to have around). I was equally unimpressed this time, despite, I flatter myself, being a much better reader, and, particularly, having read much more Gass. But Omensetter's Luck (one of the great *titles* of the twentieth century) inspires a lot of rapture from reviewers, and I'm not sure I've come across any ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Why does everyone suck this book's dick so much? not the type of question I ask about books, their readers or the pudenda of either. And of course yes Gass is good. Gass is God. God is gas. Kind of thing.

There's early Gass and there's later Gass and there's essayistic Gass and I prefer the latter two against the former I guess because of that sort of MidWest Gothic feel this and his Heart of the Heart have. I mean, it's not better just cuz Herr Gass is writing about my hometown.

Which brin
aPriL does feral sometimes
In this experimental novel of scene-chewing language it's all about the words. It's as if dozens of crossword puzzles spewed volcanically over the pages, but the words are not hard or multi-syllabic, simply difficult to understand as used in these sentences. There are several narrators who are difficult to read initially and most are in some sort of spiritual trouble, in particular Reverend Jethro Furber. He is a person with absolutely no anchor of any kind, and his insane verbiage narrates 3/4 ...more
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Basically perfect. Entire text is framed by perspective of town douche, who complains in the first section that that Mexicans, Eastern Europeans, and African-Americans are taking over (“We never had any niggers in this town till now” (5)). (Brackett Omensetter is “a deep brown like pot roast gravy” (28).)

Second section is narrated by another guy, who rents a house “near to the river” (36) to BO, but without telling him about it being “a yearly casualty of flood” (id.). Even though later “more r
Aug 24, 2007 marked it as to-read
From its reputation I always pictured this novel as an Infinite Jest-sized brick that would require to me block out a few months of reading time. But I hefted an inscribed first edition at work, and it seems as if it could easily slip into my queue and even begin staking claim (with Tolstaya and Henry Adams) to my attention, once the succubus Henry James concludes his leisurely ravishing. I only read the first few pages, but they sound great. Faulkner and Updike filter Joyce in their differing b ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-read, gassey
"Listen, Furber said, when I was a little boy and learning letters-A . . . , B . . . , C . . . , love was never taught to me, I couldn't spell it, the O was always missing, or the V, so I wrote love like live, or lure, or late, or law, or liar."

Omensetter's Luck was a Gass to read. This was my first dance with William H. Gass, and I will make sure we get more acquainted. This book has every emotion on the emotion spectrum, and I felt them all while reading. Happiness. Love. Disgust. Anger. I la
David S.
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Thomas Hardy and Cormac McCarthy lovers
Recommended to David by: David Foster Wallace
"Brackett Omensetter was a wide and happy man."

Is that not the most beautiful sentence?

Gass is a poet, who happens to write novels. He has his own unique grasp of the English language (with all its American dialects), and he uses them to their fullest extent. And, for some reason, I don't picture the author editing with a thesaurus; I picture Gass has this reference book installed into his subconscious, where the words flow from his mouth onto the written page. Cormac McCarthy appears to have ad
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William Howard Gass was 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 cite his characters as
“I don't know myself, what to do, where to go... I lie in the crack of a book for my comfort... it's what the world offers... please leave me alone to dream as I fancy.” 88 likes
“...yes, words were superior; they maintained a superior control; they touched without your touching; they were at once the bait, the hook, the line, the pole, and the water in between.” 8 likes
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