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Middle C: A Novel
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Published:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 2013
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Description
A literary event—the long-awaited novel, almost two decades in work, by the acclaimed author of The Tunnel (“The most beautiful, most complex, most disturbing novel to be published in my lifetime.”—Michael Silverblatt, Los Angeles Times; “An extraordinary achievement”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post); Omensetter’s Luck (“The most important work of fiction by an American in this literary generation”—Richard Gilman, The New Republic); Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife; and In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (“These stories scrape the nerve and pierce the heart. They also replenish the language.”—Eliot Fremont-Smith, The New York Times).
Gass’s new novel moves from World War II Europe to a small town in postwar Ohio. In a series of variations, Gass gives us a mosaic of a life—futile, comic, anarchic—arranged in an array of vocabularies, altered rhythms, forms and tones, and broken pieces with music as both theme and structure, set in the key of middle C.
It begins in Graz, Austria, 1938. Joseph Skizzen's father, pretending to be Jewish, leaves his country for England with his wife and two children to avoid any connection with the Nazis, who he foresees will soon take over his homeland. In London with his family for the duration of the war, he disappears under mysterious circumstances. The family is relocated to a small town in Ohio, where Joseph Skizzen grows up, becomes a decent amateur piano player, in part to cope with the abandonment of his father, and creates as well a fantasy self—a professor with a fantasy goal: to establish the Inhumanity Museum . . . as Skizzen alternately feels wrongly accused (of what?) and is transported by his music. Skizzen is able to accept guilt for crimes against humanity and is protected by a secret self that remains sinless.

Middle C
tells the story of this journey, an investigation into the nature of human identity and the ways in which each of us is several selves, and whether any one self is more genuine than another.
William Gass set out to write a novel that breaks traditional rules and denies itself easy solutions, cliff-edge suspense, and conventional surprises . . . Middle C is that book; a masterpiece by a beloved master.
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Street Date:
03/12/2013
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780307962263
ASIN:
B009C9BVEY
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Citations
APA Citation (style guide)

William H. Gass. (2013). Middle C: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

William H. Gass. 2013. Middle C: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

William H. Gass, Middle C: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013.

MLA Citation (style guide)

William H. Gass. Middle C: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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        William H. Gass—essayist, novelist, literary critic—was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He is the author of seven works of fiction and nine books of essays, including Life Sentences, A Temple of Texts, and Tests of Time, and was a professor of philosophy at Washington University. He died in 2017.

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title
Middle C
fullDescription
A literary event—the long-awaited novel, almost two decades in work, by the acclaimed author of The Tunnel (“The most beautiful, most complex, most disturbing novel to be published in my lifetime.”—Michael Silverblatt, Los Angeles Times; “An extraordinary achievement”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post); Omensetter’s Luck (“The most important work of fiction by an American in this literary generation”—Richard Gilman, The New Republic); Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife; and In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (“These stories scrape the nerve and pierce the heart. They also replenish the language.”—Eliot Fremont-Smith, The New York Times).
Gass’s new novel moves from World War II Europe to a small town in postwar Ohio. In a series of variations, Gass gives us a mosaic of a life—futile, comic, anarchic—arranged in an array of vocabularies, altered rhythms, forms and tones, and broken pieces with music as both theme and structure, set in the key of middle C.
It begins in Graz, Austria, 1938. Joseph Skizzen's father, pretending to be Jewish, leaves his country for England with his wife and two children to avoid any connection with the Nazis, who he foresees will soon take over his homeland. In London with his family for the duration of the war, he disappears under mysterious circumstances. The family is relocated to a small town in Ohio, where Joseph Skizzen grows up, becomes a decent amateur piano player, in part to cope with the abandonment of his father, and creates as well a fantasy self—a professor with a fantasy goal: to establish the Inhumanity Museum . . . as Skizzen alternately feels wrongly accused (of what?) and is transported by his music. Skizzen is able to accept guilt for crimes against humanity and is protected by a secret self that remains sinless.

Middle C
tells the story of this journey, an investigation into the nature of human identity and the ways in which each of us is several selves, and whether any one self is more genuine than another.
William Gass set out to write a novel that breaks traditional rules and denies itself easy solutions, cliff-edge suspense, and conventional surprises . . . Middle C is that book; a masterpiece by a beloved master.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Brian Dillon, The Times Literary Supplement
      • content:

        "A fat, ripe read... A final statement of Gass's belief in the sound of literary language... rhythmic and sonic..."

      • premium: False
      • source: Cynthia Ozick, The New York Times Book Review (cover)
      • content: "Of all living literary figures, William Gass may count as the most daringly scathing and most assertively fecund: in language, in ideas, in intricacy of form; above all in relentless fury... From its opening notes until its coda, this unquiet bildungsroman is designed to detonate its mild, middling title... Exhilaratingly ingenious... unexpected and dizzying..."
      • premium: False
      • source: Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
      • content: "Middle C takes its place in that great line of modern novels about inauthenticity... However, there is nothing sham to William Gass's art: It's not just dazzling, it's the real thing."
      • premium: False
      • source: Dan Lopez, Timeout New York
      • content: "Gass orchestrates his fiction with thematic elements as a composer might a symphony."
      • premium: False
      • source: Publishers Weekly (boxed)
      • content: "Epic . . . crazily rich with thought . . . remarkably detailed . . . Gass beautifully coaxes the unheard music from a seemingly muted life . . . the unprecedented work of a master."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kirkus

      • content: "Engaging, melancholy . . . Gass remains a master of apt metaphors, graceful sentences and a flinty, unforgiving brand of humor; it may be the most entertaining novel you'll read that half wishes humanity was wiped off the map. . . . Gass, now 88, clearly has endings on his mind, which he addresses with fearsome brio and wit."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        Starred review from January 14, 2013
        The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure.” This sentence is the secret life’s work of the Austrian émigré Joseph Skizzen, hero of Gass’s first novel in nearly two decades. There are few minds as well-documented in letters as that of Gass, whose own life’s work consists of eight well-regarded books of criticism and the legendary 1995 novel The Tunnel. But the storyline that emerges, after we learn how Joseph’s absent scofflaw father Rudi disguised his family as Jews in Vienna and London during the Second World War (as though to buck the trend), is a comparatively innocuous brand of epic. Joseph grows up in Ohio, with his mother Miriam, and becomes a devoted music lover, amateur pianist, and eventual lecturer. His quiet life, “reasonably clear of complicity in human affairs,” consists of but the smallest intrigues at the local library, which becomes Joe’s refuge, and, later, the school where he fears denunciation by the faculty. Only in his imagination is he the great Professor Skizzen, master of the Inhumanity Museum, a catalogue of the sinful human condition. And yet the novel is crazily rich with thought: there are lovingly observed descriptions of books by Thomas Hardy, Bruno Schultz, and Ruskin, remarkably detailed discourse on Miriam’s gardening, and enough discussion of music for a course in classical composition. Excepting some choppiness in the novel’s second half—and the decision to employ close third-person for material that seems naturally suited for first—Gass beautifully coaxes the unheard music from a seemingly muted life. “Middle C” was the realm of ordinary thought that Arnold Schoenberg abhorred. But for Gass, it is the model of a living, introverted mind and fodder for a symphonic anti-adventure story that is the unprecedented work of a master. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        January 1, 2013
        Misanthropy, atrocity, the Midwest--Gass revisits some familiar themes in this novel, though this ride is smoother than its epic predecessor, The Tunnel (1995). The hero of this engaging, melancholy novel is Joseph Skizzen, an Ohio music professor who consistently dissembles to get ahead in life, from the driver's license he faked to get his first job to the CV he invented to enter academia. But, Gass wants us to ask, aren't we all born into lives of fraudulence? Joseph's father, we learn early on, repeatedly changed identities to smuggle himself and his family out of Austria in advance of the Nazi horrors. In a struggle to reckon with that past, Joseph privately maintains an Inhumanity Museum, filled with newspaper clippings and photos of war, genocide and further proofs of mankind at its worst. Joseph's deep-seated frustration with man's inherent insincerity is exemplified by a sentence he obsessively revises: "The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure." Gass positions Joseph as symbolic of civilization's pervasive mediocrity: The title refers to a piano note but also suggests middle-class anxieties, mid-20th-century social catastrophes, Midwestern simplicity and middle-of-the-pack intelligence. (Joseph was a C student.) In comparison to the black-heartedness of The Tunnel, this is practically a comedy, and its pleasures shouldn't be discounted. Gass remains a master of apt metaphors, graceful sentences and a flinty, unforgiving brand of humor; it may be the most entertaining novel you'll read that half wishes humanity was wiped off the map. And though Joseph feels more like a symbol than a character, his neuroses over God, power and survival make him a rare creature in contemporary American fiction: a man as concerned with the big picture as with himself. Gass, now 88, clearly has endings on his mind, which he addresses with fearsome brio and wit.

        COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        Starred review from February 15, 2013

        Without a strong understanding of metafiction, metaphor, or philosophy, reading Gass can be a challenge. Two of his most famous novels, The Tunnel and Omensetter's Luck, conceal deeply intellectual questions about memory and knowledge underneath very simple plots. Here, too, Gass presents a simple story about Joey Skizzen, an Austrian immigrant raised in Ohio by his mother, Miriam. Early exposure to the piano influences young Joey to become a music professor at the local college. If one were reading for plot, this novel would disappoint. However, it is Joey's Inhumanity Museum, a collection of newspaper clippings of murders and genocides, that provides the fantastical entry point into the heart of the novel. By collecting these crimes against humanity, Joey creates an alternate identity for himself, one who absolves the world of sin. His own sins unfold as the reader begins to question the true identity of Professor Joseph Skizzen. VERDICT A masterly work of language and imagery from one of America's most celebrated authors. To those unfamiliar with Gass's work, the dense and fragmented narrative is a challenge, but one worth undertaking.--Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

        Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        Starred review from February 15, 2013
        This picaresque tale of a hapless poseur, music professor Joseph Skizzen, is a mischievous variation on the moral dilemmas raised in Gass' The Tunnel (1995), in which a historian grapples with his life's work, Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany. Skittish Joseph's secret obsession with genocidal horrors is manifest in his Inhumanity Museum, a motley collection of documents about human atrocities that fills the attic in his decaying Victorian house in a small Ohio college town. Fearfully virginal Joseph lives with his Austrian refugee mother, a ferocious gardener. They fled WWII Europe when he was a boy after his father, a master of false identities, disappeared. Looking back on his anxiously improvised American life, Joseph recalls incidents ludicrous, painful, and hilarious involving characters of delectably cartoonish particulars connected to his misbegotten jobs at a record store and a library. Joseph also remembers his lonely old piano teacher, who extolled middle C and the major third as a chord on which all that is good and warm and wholesome and joyful in nature is built. Can a human life achieve such uplifting unity and resonance? In this exuberantly learned bildungsromanthis torrent of curious facts and arch commentary, puns and allusionsinternationally lauded virtuoso Gass reflects on humanity's crimes and marvels, creating his funniest and most life-embracing book yet.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

popularity
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A literary event--the long-awaited novel, almost two decades in work, by the acclaimed author of The Tunnel ("The most beautiful, most complex, most disturbing novel to be published in my lifetime."--Michael Silverblatt, Los Angeles Times; "An extraordinary achievement"--Michael Dirda, The Washington Post); Omensetter's Luck ("The most important work of fiction by an American in this literary generation"--Richard Gilman, The New Republic); Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife; and In the Heart of the Heart of the Country ("These stories scrape the nerve and pierce the heart. They also replenish the language."--Eliot Fremont-Smith, The New York Times).

Gass's new novel moves from World War II Europe to a small town in postwar Ohio. In a series of variations, Gass gives us a mosaic of a life--futile, comic, anarchic--arranged in an array of vocabularies, altered rhythms, forms and tones, and broken pieces with music as both...

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