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A Frolic of His Own Paperback – February 10, 1995
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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.
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Strangely enough , I recommend this book but you have to have time and patience and I'm not unhappy to be done with it.
If the law is ubiquitous in A Frolic of His Own, it is because, as the characters in Gaddis’ novel demonstrate, we are a deeply litigious people.
Oscar Crease, the novel’s main character, sues himself, leaving his vehicle as defendant, after his driverless car runs over him while he is under the hood adjusting the vehicle’s ignition switch.
Oscar sues a production company for stealing and degrading his screenplay to make a sex, and violence infused movie of the Civil War.
A sculptor seeks an injunction against a city to preserve his unpopular structure, Cyclone Seven, against citizens seeking to destroy the thing in an effort to liberate Spot, a hapless, adorable puppy hopelessly ensnared within the artistic expression.
There’s a lawsuit involving catsup splattered on a fur coat by animal rights activists; a lawsuit, cited by one Judge Crease, Oscar’s father, involving a drowning during a baptism in the Pee Dee River, and so it goes.
And why are we a deeply litigious people? Harry Lutz, a prominent, even sympathetic character in the novel is an ambitious and accomplished young lawyer who refuses to concede that lawsuits are undertaken in a quest for justice. “It’s the money,” according to Lutz, “The rest of it is nothing but opera.”
This extraordinary and powerful novel appeared over twenty years ago. It could have been published yesterday. Age has not, to borrow Shakespeare, withered its message in the slightest. Alas, there is no sign that it will anytime soon.
The problem I'm having, however, is that the book doesn't actually SAY very much. As fun as it is to see Gaddis play games with legal talk, 500 pages of satire seems a bit excessive. All of the characters are parodies of people, rather than people, and there's nothing to really grab onto and care about in this book. Is it fun? Sure... for a while. Is Gaddis a talented writer? Absolutely. But is this book something you need to rush out and get? Not really.