John Gardner a Fake?

I haven’t read enough Gardner to confirm this, but I suspect this fellow (John Crowley) is onto something. For me the first sign of Gardner’s going awry was that he slammed Percy’s Lancelot for failing to be a “moral” book.

John Gardner was, in fact, a fake. He was a terrible immoralist who dared to write a book called “On Moral Fiction”, and despite my general agreement with JM about writers sometimes writing against the person they are, that wasn’t a novel, it was a screed. It’s actually my belief that John Gardner sold his soul to the Devil (this would, actually make a fine story, which I don’t care to write). My first intimations of something wrong came when I saw that The Sunlight Dialogues first appeared in a gorgeous edition with illustrations. Who gets illustrations in common literary fiction? Then in a bus station in Indianapolis I found on the paperback rack a copy of his multi-thousand-line epic poem “Jason and Medea.” A mass market paperback? In a bus station? Who made that deal, I’d like to know? Then there was his successful descent into sloth, alcoholism, and self indulgence, a repellent figure who nonetheless got any woman he looked at, apparently, sometimes more than one at once–well it was the times, I guess, but then those huge unreadable books kept piling up, hypnotized editors continuing to publish them; he plagiarizes half his book about Chaucer and gets away with what’s ruined many a rep; continues admired, honored, even revered, and then came that dark night on the lonely road in the woods when his contract was up… How’s that for a Secret History?

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  1. Quin Finnegan says

    I don’t know how many times I’ve started a Garnder novel without finishing it. Nickel Mountain, Sunlight Dialogues, October Light: I made it through two or three chapters and just couldn’t finish them. Pretty labored.

    I had to read Grendel for a class in high school, and found parts of it pretty offensive, if not immoral. Perhaps ‘troubled’ is the best description.

    Incidentally, it seems to me that Percy was fairly kind towards Garnder in one of the interviews. Something about an overlap between Gardner’s moral fiction and Percy’s diagnostic novel, if I remember correctly. If someone (you, maybe?) has that handy, it might be worth including here.

  2. Holy crap. And here I’ve been quoting him reverently all these years. Serves me right for not reading our archives more carefully.

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