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A Frolic of His Own Paperback – February 10, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Perhaps William Gaddis' most accessible novel--though a dense and imposing book--A Frolic of His Own is a masterful work that mocks the folly of a litigious society. The story centers around Oscar Crease, the grandson of a Confederate soldier who avoided a deadly battle by invoking a legal clause that allowed him to hire a substitute and who later became a Supreme Court judge. Oscar writes a play about his grandfather that goes unproduced yet appears as the story behind a big-budget Hollywood film. Oscar sues and is tossed into the vortex of litigation. Meanwhile, almost 20 other lawsuits of varying frivolity swirl about, adding to this satirical and philosophical treat, which won the National Book Award for 1994.

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Carpenter's Gothic (and winner of a 1993 Lannan Award) takes a brash, entertaining swipe at the legal profession in his fourth novel. Oscar Crease is a quiet, middle-aged history professor whose father and grandfather were both high-ranking judges. The story begins as Oscar contemplates two lawsuits: one against the Japanese manufacturer of the car that ran over him; the other against a filmmaker Oscar claims stole his play, Once at Antietam , and turned it into a gory, lavish movie. Before long, the legal wranglings, strategic maneuvering and--of course--the whopping bills dominate Oscar's life and wreak havoc on his relationships. There is no description or third-person narrative. Like Carpenter's Gothic , which is rendered wholly in dialogue, this narrative is a cacophony of heard and found voices: Oscar's conversations with his myriad lawyers, his flighty girlfriend, his patient sister and her lawyer husband are all spliced with phone calls, readings from Oscar's play and various legal documents. Rather than slow the action down, these documents add to the grim melee. This is a wonderful novel, aswirl with the everyday inanity of life; it may also be the most scathing attack ever published on our society's litigious ways.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (February 10, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684800527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684800523
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #855,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dave Shickle on October 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Despite the fact that he almost always rewards the effort it takes to get through his books, this is the only Gaddis work I've gotten through. I stalled out on JR and the Recognitions, even though I was enjoying them both . . . it just seems like . . . I dunno . . . TOO MUCH, and diminishing returns kicks in after a while. Even Tolstoy has a hard time keeping my attention for 700 pages +.
Not so in this book. The transitions between dialogue and description seem more refined; there wasn't nearly as much confusion for me in this book as there was in his other books - very little "so who's talking now? and who's this character?"
Since those hurdles were much lower, I could actually enjoy what makes Gaddis enjoyable - he's hilarious. He's bitter and mean and almost always absolutely right. And it isn't like swallowing a cup of bile on every page because you can tell that, beneath all of his disgust with the way things are, there's an undercurrent of well-reasoned humanity and hope for the way things ought to be.
The only thing that keeps this review from being a 5 is the rather tedious excerpts from the play. They have thematic resonances and all that literary garbage but, frankly, when I go back to reread the book (and it's just as funny when you read it again - and you find more and more stuff, which is the mark of a great book) I usually skip over those sections.
It's a shame that so few people can get past the challenge of his style (I always see rows of barely creased Gaddis tomes in used book stores) because those who can settle into his rhythms will enjoy this book a whole lot.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
I am always amused when someone posts a review implying that lawyers should not read a book because it's critical of them and they presumably wouldn't like it (see below). To the contrary, we're not all vain, ignorant barbarians. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and particularly the scathing satire directed at certain members of my chosen profession. I can assure you based upon my several years of private practice that, technical quibbles aside (who honestly cares if Gaddis didn't understand preemption?), this book is 100% dead on accurate, down to the very smallest detail, such as the covertly conniving lawyer sending the "hideous" but "expensive" potted amarylis to Christina. It is pleasurable to see my compatriots (and to a certain extent, myself) stripped of their pompous finery in such a masterful manner. It is certainly at times sobering, but meaningfully and necessarily so. And the entire book was far from a chore to read, but one of the most original, brilliantly designed novels I have ever read. It is told in a stream of consciousness style that takes some getting used to, perhaps, but is positively addictive once you get the hang of it. And the interpolation of satirical legal opinions and a deposition transcript into the novel is an original touch. Judge Crease's first "Spot" opinion is an absolute howl (no pun intended). All in all, a complex, engrossing, enriching experience.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hayward on October 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
I made the "mistake" of familiarizing myself with Gaddis' work by first reading The Recognitions about six months ago. Make no mistake - The Recognitions is well worth the effort, once you understand how to read it (i.e. the dialogue and conversational effect and how to interpret who is talking and when, and what is narrative as opposed to dialogue), although toward the end, when Wyatt loses his mind in the monastery, the imagery gets a bit muddled. In any event, as I began reading A Frolic of His Own, I found myself thinking, wow, I should have started with this one, because this is much more accessible than The Recognitions. Of course, I now realize that it is more accessible simply because I had been through the wringer with The Recognitions and not because the style is so much different. Indeed, it is more structured and more coherent, but the same Gaddis black, stinging satire is there in its glory.
An amazing book. Gaddis truly listened to how we speak and interact with each other, because his dialogue is absolutely spot on with how we humans/Americans speak to each other in a familiar manner. While there are no truly sympathetic characters (all are pretentious and selfish in a way we all know far too well), one can't help but feel empathy towards each of them in some sordid way. The plot has been outlined in other reviews, so I won't go there, other than to say that just when you think Gaddis is off on some tangent and you feel a lack of cleverness in having not "got it", he brings it right back around, front and center, although it may not be where you thought it was going to be.
Unlike criticisms of The Recognitions, and even JR, which suggest too much plot, too many charachters, and many loose ends (not necessarily true), this is a tightly, albeit densely, plotted book that is at times laugh out loud funny and other times head in the oven sad. But at all times it challenges and is truly entertaining and wonderful. Maybe the best book I've ever read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Edward Samuels on December 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm writing this review not as a general reader who likes everything from Umberto Eco (the sublime) to Douglas Adams (the ridiculous), but as someone with a particular interest in copyright to others with a similar interest (assuming you are not already a Gaddis fan). For such a reader, Gaddis's book is an incredible journey through the world of law in general, and copyright law in particular. A lawyer with any perspective ought to love this. Some of the materials are taken almost verbatim from actual cases, but with just enough twists to make it sometimes hilarious. I too noticed what I thought was a flaw in the analysis between federal and state law, but it turns out later that the purported flaw was intentional and plays an important part in the development of the plot!
The book is certainly not an easy read (with no quotation marks, and everyone annoyingly interrupting each other and not finishing sentences), and it takes 50-100 pages to learn how to read the book without getting too bogged down. But this is ultimately a brilliant work, and I recommend that any lawyer or professor or student interested in the field will ultimately get a lot out of it.
-Edward Samuels, author of The Illustrated Story of Copyright
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