William H. Gass Gass, William H(oward) (Vol. 1) - Essay

Gass, William H(oward) (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gass, William H(oward) 1924–

American novelist and philospher, author of Omensetter's Luck. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20.)

Omensetter's Luck … is an imperfect book, finally unsatisfying, but the work of an extraordinary mind…. Gass's language and imagery come from particular, real people and places closely observed—observed with intense love but also with that comic detachment which comes from the knowledge that all men are, like oneself, slightly ridiculous. It is a poetry made up of real people's turns of speech … [and] … of the real world's images….

Gass's handling of language is unerring. And as a fictional strategist he is one of the best since Faulkner. Stripped to its thematic bones, Omensetter's Luck, is a book about mind….

The battle between [the apparent hero and the apparent villain] is the ancient battle of intellectual vs. "natural man," reason vs. faith, intellectual control vs. "luck," but in Gass's novel the battle has a wide field: within the individual heart, within a town, within a nation, within all cvilization….

Gass is always dead right in his choice of which characters to use, how to treat each character, which scene to put first; and he's dead right too in his handling of minor structural devices for the larger poetic rhythm of the novel….

Gass has written perfect short stories and one of the best short novels ever produced by an American. He has everything it takes to produce a great novel.

John Gardner, "An Invective Against Mere Fiction," in The Southern Review, Vol. III, No. 2, Spring, 1967, pp. 444-67.

That Gass often writes beautifully [in Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife] to match, with a strange lyricism of the inner body, its organs and fluids, and certain lovely, half-fashioned windows onto blind landscapes outside the room, does not serve to conjure away all doubts as to the genre intended.

Nathaniel Tarn, in New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by the New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 14, 1971, p. 5.