Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Recognitions first appeared in print in 1955. Very few critics gave favorable reviews because the reader must stumble through 956 pages of obscure analogies, unfinished conversations and sentences, events not explicitly described, interspersed foreign languages, and characters who talk at one another in enigmatic language. Gaddis does give obscure explanations of glossed-over events and supplies some omitted details as the story progresses, so that a reader who uses his imagination and creativity to fill in the blanks can work through the story slowly. Gaddis litters the path so that only those willing to take great effort will finish.

Few people have wanted to struggle enough to uncover the novel’s message until recently. The book went out of print in the late 1950’s. In 1962, Meridian published it in paperback, and in 1970 another paperback edition came out. More and more people have read it and praised it, so that now numerous critical articles have been devoted to it. Some reviewers even compare Gaddis to James Joyce and T. S. Eliot.

The novel sufficiently rewards the reader who perseveres. The conversations amuse; the analogies, beautiful poetry, and poetic language provoke thought; the mention of arcana fascinates. Finally, in deciding how to live, everyone should know the argument advocating a moral life, even if the argument is ultimately rejected.