Paul Maliszewski

  • “Another Damned, Thick Book”

    On January 4, 1955, William Gaddis sent physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer a letter and a copy of The Recognitions, his 956-page first novel, which would officially be published in March of that year. “You must receive mail of all sorts,” Gaddis wrote, “crank notes and fan letters of every description, but few I should think of half a million words.” Oppenheimer, who oversaw the creation of the atomic bomb as director of the laboratories at Los Alamos, New Mexico, had delivered a speech for Columbia University’s bicentennial. The address, called “Prospects in the Arts and Sciences,” describes how

  • Another Ventriloquist

    Some narrators speak certainly, and others shyly stammer, revealing their stories with reluctance and unease. Think of Moby-Dick, which begins, “Call me Ishmael,” and then consider John Barth’s The End of the Road (1958), which opens on a more jittery note: “In a sense, I am Jacob Horner.” Horner’s nervous squirming came to mind while I was reading Another Ventriloquist, the finely turned and intelligent collection of stories by Adam Gilders, a Canadian author who wrote for the National Post and The Walrus and published his fiction in the Paris Review, among other magazines.

    Gilders, who in

  • Apple Corps

    Max Apple learned of his first major publication by telegram in 1973. Ted Solotaroff, editor of American Review, a pocket-size paperback with wide influence and enormous ambition, wrote to accept “The Oranging of America.” “Love your story,” the telegram read. “Some legal questions.” Apple’s story stars a businessman named Howard Johnson, who tours his vast motel empire in the company of his secretary and chauffeur. The three travel the United States in high style, riding in a 1964 Cadillac limousine tricked out with an ice-cream freezer “in which there were always at least eighteen flavors on

  • Sex Brainiac

    Alexander Theroux once declared revenge the “single most informing element of great world literature,” transcending even “love and war, with which themes . . . it has more than passing acquaintance.” Revenge, Theroux suggests, also drives authors to create. George Orwell, he points out, figured the “desire . . . to get your own back on grownups who snubbed you in childhood” to be among one’s first motivations for writing.

    Theroux’s novels are close cousins to Jacobean revenge plays: No plan unfolds without dire consequences. Yet they’re also meditations on how anger consumes us, and they’re

  • If He Did It

    Clifford Irving was once a household name. On December 7, 1971, McGraw-Hill Book Company announced the imminent publication of The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, a book Irving had assembled from more than a hundred hours of interviews he’d conducted with the billionaire everyone had heard of but hardly anyone knew. An American expatriate living on the Spanish island of Ibiza, Irving had several thrillers to his name and had recently published a biography of the prolific art forger Elmyr de Hory. Irving, it seemed, sent a copy of that book to Hughes and received in reply a letter scrawled on