Notes From a Banana Plantation
OK, to get us started, here's the synopsis of this week's section (reaching back into the last section a bit, mind), courtesy williamgaddis.org:
Some seven or eight years after leaving Paris, Wyatt is living in New York City and employed as a draftsman. He occasionally designs bridges to which his supervisor, Benny, signs his name, and he also restores a few paintings on the side, but he has done no original work since Paris. He has married (at her suggestion) a woman named Esther, an aspiring writer with a promiscuous "Village past." Their relationship is a study in futility, and the tension is compounded when they meet Otto Pivner, an aspiring playwright who recently left Harvard (whether he graduated with a degree is unsaid). Frustrated, finally, with both his job and his wife (and surely guessing of her adultery with Otto), Wyatt leaves both to forge paintings for Recktall Brown, whom he meets as a result of (or at least following) an infernal conjuration. Otto moves in with Esther; Benny fails to persuade Wyatt to return to his job. After a year or so, Otto too leaves Esther, and his place is quickly taken by a crass adman named Ellery. From the middle of this chapter onward, Wyatt is nameless.
Otto is in Central America working on a banana plantation (in the office rather than the fields), and working after-hours on his play, The Vanity of Time. Enduring the unwanted company of the tattooed Jesse Franks, Otto looks forward to returning to New York City tanned, his play completed, and sporting a black sling with which he plans to win sympathy and admiration.
Upon returning to New York in early December, Otto is invited to a Greenwich Village party for the unveiling of a new painting (actually a mounted workman's shirt) by an artist/critic named Max. Though some of the characters at the party have already appeared briefly - Agnes Deigh on page 100, Anselm on 103 - it is here that most of the novel's cast is introduced: Arny and Maude Munk, a childless couple always failing in their attempts to adopt; Herschel, a clever homosexual and ghostwriter for politicians and army generals; Agnes Deigh, a literary agent, lapsed Catholic, most comfortable in the company of homosexuals; Hannah, a dumpy Village artist, amateur psychologist, living by charity and her wits, fond both of beer and Stanley, a devout Catholic, composer of organ music, concerned for the souls both of Agnes and Anselm (real name: Arthur), an acne-ridden poet, obsessed with the spirit (but contemptuous of the common practice) of religion; assorted Village people (the suicidal Charles Dickens, guilt-ridden for being in a plane that dropped an atomic bomb in "the late hate"; the onanistic critic in the green wool shirt; Buster Brown; Sonny Byron; Adeline Thing); Ed Feasley, a practical joker who attended Harvard with Otto without learning an occupation; Big Anna the Swede, a flamboyant homosexual and cross-dresser; Mr. Feddle, a befuddled old man who writes poetry and pays to have it published; and Esme, "manic depressive, schizoid tendencies" (196.24) as well as a heroin addict and model, who also writes poetry. The party ends viciously with Herschel hitting Hannah and Anselm maligning everyone else. Otto accompanies Esme home.
Personally, I'm enjoying Otto's antics very much. He represents a big of source of relief--comic and otherwise--for me in this book, functioning as he does as a sort of silly, slapstick-y figure (and Gaddis manque. Is Ellery the "adman" also meant to be one?)
We have at least one suggested topic in the mirroring/reflecting going on with Otto, particularly on the banana plantation, where he preens in the mirror endlessly. Is it just a comment on Otto's vanity, his delusions of grandeur? A joke made by Gaddis at his own expense? Just another recognition? What say you? (Even his name is a mirroring of sorts, isn't it? Ot|to.)
Also, I haven't dug through the annotations for this part yet, or in other sources, but I assume there's some major roman à clef going on in this party scene at the end of our section. Anyone have the skinny?
Go wild, you drunkards.
(Additional Fun Fact: According to the annotations, Gaddis, who seems to have read most everything, said he hadn't read Proust's In Search of Lost Time past its "overture," meaning past the first fifty or so pages, I'm guessing. Perhaps he was busy reading Bright Lights, Big City--as J. Franz suggests.)