Article Title

Taking Law Seriously


Robert Weisberg


William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own. New York: Poseidon Press, 1994. Pp. 586. $25.00

A Frolic of His Own is not merely the finest novel ever written about the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ....

In an era when students who have not paid the dues of reading Eliot, Yeats, or even Wordsworth claim the privilege of postmodernist critique, William Gaddis's Frolic may prove temptation or corrective. It will prove temptation if its howling swirl of disconnected voices and its pronouncements about the reducibility of law to language receive false praise and are condescendingly characterized as postmodernist. It will prove corrective if viewed as a blessedly oldfashioned modernist novel, or, better yet, as an even older-fashioned cri de coeur for personal salvation, if not social justice, as a value still undeconstructed. Even more fundamentally, it will prove corrective as a display of linguistic art capable of anger, hysterical humor, and undeconstructable prose assertion.

As a first step, I will risk naive referentiality in the most literal sense: I will say what the novel is about. It is about an insanely neurotic man named Oscar Crease who, like other characters in the book, cannot overcome his conviction that the justice system is the best medium for winning recognition of his yearnings, beliefs, and claims of integrity. As observed by Oscar's sister Christina, the sweetsouled and tragically realistic demurrer to all overheated plaintiffs in the book: "the money's just a yardstick isn't it. It's the only common reference people have for making other people take them as seriously as they take themselves...."