cover image Finding a Form: Essays

Finding a Form: Essays

William H. Gass. Alfred A. Knopf, $26 (354pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44662-0

In his first gathering of essays in several years, novelist and critic Gass's commitment to ideas, concentrated energy and originality shine through on every page. The title essay, an exploration of how writers navigate complex, refractory reality, discloses how his childhood with an abusive father and alcoholic mother influenced his escape into writing and shaped his fictional characters, symbols and preoccupations. ""Nature, Culture, and Cosmos"" pessimistically gauges the ""immense indifference"" of the universe to our moral values and our deaths. Other pieces deal with Ezra Pound as a failed modernist; the lives of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein in relation to their thought; various species of the avant-garde from Pierre de Ronsard to Degas, Beckett and the Bauhaus; the exacting demands of autobiography; the Pulitzer Prize Committee's ""banal and hokey"" choices in fiction; and the abyss between the moral viewpoints expressed in works of art and the lives of their creators. Gass's deeply felt essays, reprinted from the New York Times Book Review, Antaeus, etc., are quotable, flecked with fertile insights and a pleasure to read. On stoicism: ""If we have to accept what we get, why not imagine that it's just what we want?"" On Impressionism: ""It allows subversion to go on with the approval of the subverted."" (Aug.)