What strikes me most about the difficult reading of Omensetter’s Luck is how differently the book fails compared to how books these days fail. And, to me, the difference lies not with writers but with publishers who have been overrun by corporate accountants and don’t have the vision or courage their predecessors had. So, failed books these days are often still-born drag-outs dead from a considerable lack of magic whereas Omensetter’s Luck is a headswelling risk-taker of a book, with prose so carried away it hurts its readability. I want to liken the book to a vomitorium because, like those Romans who’d hurl to keep on eating, the reader here must somehow throw up long sections of babble to keep forging a path through Gass’s glut of words. But, to be fair, the many passages that can be read and kept down attain a transcendent glow that harkens way back to when America was just a fever dream.
“His dark room now seemed cool and restfully confining. You could imagine maps in the wallpaper. The roses had faded into vague shells of pink. Only a few silver lines along the vanished stems and in the veins of leaves, indistinct patches of the palest green, remained—the faint suggestion of mysterious geography. A grease spot was a marsh, a mountain or a treasure. Israbestis went boating down a crack on cool days, under the tree boughs, bending his head. He fished in a chip of plaster. The perch rose to the bait and were golden in the sunwater. Specks stood for cities; pencil marks were bridges; stains and shutter patterns laid out fields of wheat and oats and corn. In the shadow of a corner the crack issued into a great sea.”