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William H. Gass’ Finding a Form

Finding a Form: Essays, by William H. Gass. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. 368 pp. $26.

I HAPPENED TO BE passing through St. Louis one summer weekend in 1989, and, having a day to kill, I took a chance and telephoned William Gass in his offices at the philosophy department at Washington University. Ordinarily I would have hesitated before trying to contact a writer whom I admired; but Gass, as a philosopher, essayist, and novelist, was more important to me than most, and as luck would have it, he was in and invited me over. I remember that the campus was lovely; I remember that Gass was gray-haired and gracious. I remember very little of the conversation itself, except for our closing exchange. At the time I was in my mid ’20s, and Angry; Gass was in his mid ’60s, and Even Angrier; he’d once invented a character who said, “I want to rise so high . . . that when I shit I won’t miss anybody.”

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