It irks me that William H Gass still has not been awarded the Nobel Prize. They blew it with Gass' pal William Gaddis, who died Nobel-less in 1997, and in the meantime Gass has become 88 years old. What are they waiting for?
Gass is a critic who is more than a critic, he also writes fiction and hard-to-classify essays, and those of his works which can be classified as criticism are also completely distinctive. This is not your father's New York Times book reviewer. Some time ago I almost completely stopped caring about the opinions of critics who haven't produced impressive work in the genre they criticize: people who review novels who are not novelists, music reviewers who are not musicians, etc. That leaves Gass who besides the unclassifiable essays has written novels and short stories, and T S Eliot who I believe wrote some poems, and who else? Yeah, Matthew Arnold, but do we really still care what Arnold said? (Really?) And let's be frank, Eliot's appeal, too, has faded sharply with the perspective of time. Gass writes rings around him and a few other Nobel laureates, and has the added appeal, unlike Eliot, of not being a bigot.
It's strange that of all the American novelists who served in the military in WWII, Gass is still alive. Strange because he has always looked so sickly. Okay, these days he actually doesn't look half bad for an 88-year-old -- and he's still writing. His brand-new novel Middle C is scheduled to be published next week -- but half a century ago his appearance was alarming, and it would have seemed strange if someone had predicted that he would outlive Gaddis and Heller and Stone and Jones and Mailer and Brossard and Hawkes and Vidal and Baldwin and Dickey and Bellow and Cheever and Vonnegut and all of the rest of them -- never mind all of them: half a century ago it might have seemed you were going out on a limb if you'd pointed to the little fat guy who always looked as if he'd just been poisoned, always with a look of a bitter taste in his mouth on his face, and predicted that he would outlast any a them studs. And yet here he still is being absolutely wonderful.
What virtual shoe can I throw in your direction to sufficiently get your attention about Gass, how can I reach through cyberspace to grab your lapels and shake you, because this is important, because you will thank me if you've never read Gass and you start because of me, because he will change your life, because, to paraphrase what he (correctly) said about his pal Gaddis, his writing is so good it will make you stand up and shout Yes! Yes! Something is good in this crappy sad world! Because against the mediocrity of what usually passes for good writing Gass' writing stands out like lightning against muddy grey clouds.
Okay, I guess I've done what I can and you will do what yr gonna do.