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JR Paperback – September 10, 2003
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Top Customer Reviews
One child, JR, is particularly enamoured with the whole process. He asks complicated questions about futures, buybacks, depreciations, interest, tax write-offs and more, flustering and intriguing the man in charge of the tour around the company. JR is so curious, in fact, that upon arriving home, he begins to study and plan ways to make his piece of America work for him.
He meets up with Edward Bast, a struggling composer, and they strike a deal. JR will be the thinking man of the operation, Bast - as an adult - will be the face of the company. Soon, Bast is traveling back and forth from paper mill to Indian reserve to banquet to meeting room as JR creates an empire from 'worthless' stock and inventory obtained through mail order and telephone deals.
JR is written almost entirely in dialogue. People speak, radios chatter, conversations begin and end and trail off, some in the main focus of the novel, such as Rhoda and Bast's discussions in the increasingly cluttered apartment he lives in, some off to the side, little snippets finding their way into the book, shedding light on minor characters or putting a different perspective on what is currently happening. Gaddis, as always, writes flawless dialogue that in no way reads like the 'perfect' diction of most novels, instead having trailing sentences, unfinished words and thoughts, and poor punctuation. When speaking, a character is almost never identified, but through Gaddis' grasp of speech, it is generally pretty easy to tell who is who and what is going on. There are large paragraphs of description scattered about, but these generally serve as bookends to conversations between characters.
The novel JR is an extremely interesting look at the world of finance. Seen through the eyes of the oblivious musician Bast, we are horrified as JR's empire grows and grows, always obeying the law, always being correct and accurate, but at the same time, perverting the true spirit of business and money. Perhaps because he is eleven, JR is unable to see the companies he buys, sells, underwrites and reconstructs as actual tangible realities, the employees are little more than vast bottomless money pits in terms of salaries to him, and nothing is sacred. He has no understanding of the realities of what he is accomplishing, all he is concerned with is, 'If you are going to play, play to win.'
The reviewer who equated it to listening to the radio is pretty close, in my opinion, although I feel its more like listening to other people talking on the train (or perhaps watching a Robert Altman movie with a blindfold on) in that conversations can be broken off just when you think they are getting interesting.
Reading Gaddis can be like watching television, with someone else holding the remote. If you can't watch movies that way, you'll hate this book.
If you haven't read any Gaddis, read "A Frolic of His Own" first - I was astonished at the way he managed to manipulate my impressions of people solely on the way he let me hear them talk, and then as time went on, I discovered that I actually quite liked those despicable characters after all - and the beating the legal profession gets is far easier to understand (and sympathise with) than the capitalists in JR.
If you find Frolic heavy going, you probably won't like JR. If you find JR heavy going, don't touch The Recognitions. The only reason I bothered with JR, after reading Recognitions, was because I had read Frolic first.
Don't read JR because you're expecting a savage attack on capitalism, although it is that. Don't read it because you want to see how schools are becoming profit-centers first, and educators second, although it shows that. Don't read it because someone said its a picture of an America that was (is?), although perhaps it is.
Read it because its a good book. Difficult to read, sure, especially for the TV Guide generation, but worth it in the end, and very funny especially to those of us with a cynical bent.
"... because even if we can't um, if we can't rise to his level, no at least we can, we can drag him down to ours ..."
-- Bast, on humanizing Mozart (I think it was, anyway ;-)
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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