Award-winning author William Gass gets musical in new novel

Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:59pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nearly 18 years after his novel "The Tunnel" grabbed critics' attention, 88-year-old writer William Gass is back making literary music with a new work of fiction.

"Middle C," published this week by Knopf, is Gass' first full-length novel since 1995's "The Tunnel," which earned him the American Book Award. As the title suggests, the book incorporates music into both its structure and plot.

"Language is to a writer what notes are to a musician," Gass told Reuters in an interview. "It's a modulation, a refrain."

The book centers on Joseph Skizzen, an Austrian émigré who moves to a small town in Ohio with his mother and sister as World War Two winds down. Introverted and feeling out of place, he spends much of his time playing the piano and becomes a professor at a local college.

Joseph carves out a niche as an expert on composer Arnold Schönberg, the Austrian exile who originated atonal music.

The structure of "Middle C" mirrors Schönberg's musical style. Instead of having the plot build up, crest and ebb, the book flows evenly in a series of anecdotes and recollections of the protagonist's everyday life.

Throughout the book, Joseph is constantly trying to wrangle a certain sentence into what he feels is its best form. The sentence's repetition serves as a harmonizing chorus.

"It expressed the situation as I thought of it," said Gass, who said he wrote many more permutations of the "musical sentence" than actually appear in the book.   Continued...