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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

The Rush for Second Place

William Gaddis

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To purchase The Rush for Second Place

Title: The Rush for Second Place
Author: William Gaddis
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2002)
Length: 188 pages
Availability: The Rush for Second Place - US
The Rush for Second Place - UK
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The Rush for Second Place - India

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Our Assessment:

B : nice small, varied collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 24/7/2003 Hal Foster
NY Press . 17/12/2002 Jim Knipfel
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . (I/2003) Christopher Paddock
San Francisco Chronicle . 20/10/2002 Andrew Ervin
Wilson Quarterly . Fall/2002 Paul Maliszewski

  From the Reviews:
  • "The result is more of a scrapbook than an anthology, but thanks to Tabbi’s expert editing and telling commentary, Rush manages to extend the ideas found in Gaddis’s novels and provide insight into the preoccupations of this deeply private author." - Christopher Paddock, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Here you'll learn that Gaddis can't finish even a short nonfiction piece without breaking into a rant. You'll find essays consisting of strung-together quotes that you have to read carefully, twice, before you conclude that no argument (or, indeed, logic) is hidden in the string. You'll see that, sure enough, literary difficulty can operate as a smoke screen for an author who has nothing interesting, wise, or entertaining to say." - Jonathan Franzen, The New Yorker (30/9/2002)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Rush for Second Place collects much of William Gaddis' non-fiction. The subtitle calls it a collection of ":Essays and Occasional Writings", and the emphasis is decidedly on the latter. Covering more than four decades, it makes for an interesting glimpse of Gaddis' concerns, interests, and preoccupations.
       Brief headnotes by editor Joseph Tabbi usefully provide some background information about each of the pieces. It's also a nice mix that is presented here: Gaddis' brief National Book Association acceptance speeches, small tributes to figures as varied as Dostoevsky and Julian Schnabel, a book review of Saul Bellow's More Die of Heartbreak, and even some of his writings for corporate clients.
       There is a perhaps surprising amount here that is political. There is some Dan Quayle-bashing, as well as other attacks on American office-holders, but Gaddis' points are broader ones as he considers what he sees as general failures in American public life, policy, and attitudes.
       Among the more interesting pieces is one "On Creative Writing and the National Endowment for the Arts"; here and elsewhere a main concern is that summed up in the collection's longest essay, the title piece: the troubling acceptance of -- and the incredible rise of -- mediocrity in America.
       Gaddis believes the artist and the artist's achievement -- original, creative work that aspires to the new, rather than merely simplifying the known -- should be valued; instead he finds it debased. The ultimate symbol of this, for him, is the player piano, a lifelong preoccupation of his. As he explains in the earliest piece included here, the player piano:

offered an answer to some of America's most persistent wants: the opportunity to participate in something which asked little understanding; the pleasure of creating without work, practice, or the taking of time; and the manifestation of talent where there was none.
       Several of the pieces here, including an appendix offering a "Player Piano Chronology to 1929", deal with this particular manifestation; interesting in and of themselves, they are useful also as background information for Gaddis' last novel, Agape Agape (see our review).
       Often quoting extensively (unfortunately often without anything resembling adequate attribution), Gaddis' pieces are fairly effective, dense quilts, only occasionally tripping over themselves as he stuffs too much in and wanders too far afield. Many are really just very small pieces, while others -- the player piano material -- are clearly material he does not feel he has completely come to grips with (i.e. what he presents doesn't feel like a final expression of his thoughts). Still, several pieces do stand nicely on their own, including "Old Foes with New Faces", comparing writing and religion. He gladly extends hands to the religionists, seeing them merely as a different sort of fiction-writers:
we are all in the same line of business: that of concocting, arranging, and peddling fictions to get us safely through the night.
       A 1995 piece on "Erewohn and the Contract with America" also nicely uses Butler's classic text and compares the utopia it envisioned with contemporary America.

       The Rush for Second Place is a nice (if often angry) little collection, an interesting contrast to Gaddis' expansive fictions. For those interested in Gaddis but intimidated by the novels it offers a good, manageable introduction to the writer. For true Gaddis fans it is, of course, a must. As for the casual reader who neither knows nor cares about Gaddis, it probably won't be of that much interest -- though perhaps it is worth a peek, tempting readers then to find out more about this man and his work.

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The Rush for Second Place: Reviews: William Gaddis: Other books by William Gaddis under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author William Gaddis (1922-1998) won two National Book Awards (for J.R. and A Frolic of His Own) and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

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© 2002-2021 the complete review

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