Several years ago I read a most remarkable book called JR by William Gaddis. Published in 1975, the novel relates the story of an eleven-year-old boy, JR, who manages, through a series of business moves made through a pay telephone in his school, to turn penny stocks into one of the largest fortunes in the world. The book took Gaddis twenty years to finish, and he won the National Book Award for it in 1976.
The novel is remarkable not only for the satirical nature of the story and its relevance still today, but for the style of writing. Written almost entirely in dialogue, the book has no discernible narrator. It is a cacophany of voices that speak over one another, conversations with no beginning and no end, transitions that transport the reader through the air. It is a brilliant novel, one of the greatest books I have ever read. And done in a style I’ve not seen repeated or even closely mimiced.
A few weeks ago I was shelving books in the elementary school library when I happened upon this gem: Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway by Avi. I was drawn in by the title, a reference to the old radio version of The Lone Ranger. I was further drawn to read the book by the style of writing. Told completely in dialogue, the novel glimpses a brief time in the life of a radio loving boy in the 40s. He spends the novel getting into all sorts of trouble, all because of his love of radio shows.
I love old time radio shows. They are my go-to listening pleasure. When I’m cleaning the house or driving a long distance or running, I listen to old radio detective shows.
Avi’s novel struck me on two fronts. First, it is a book told completely in dialogue, similar to Gaddis’s work. Second, the book is about a boy obsessed with radio shows—and I’m a boy obsessed with radio shows.
And this is what I love about writing, and about reading. That I can one day find myself surrounded by various creative works, all of which relate to each other in my head. I see references to one of the greatest novels of the 20th century in a short juvenile fiction novel published in 1992 which also happens to be about one of my favorite forms of entertainment.
I’m reminded of this as I continue work on book two in the Mesabi series. Pioneers is a convergence of some themes and subjects I’ve longed to write about; the second novel is an extension of those ideas: the men and women who got their hands dirty building America. When I feel stuck it helps to be reminded that these connections are out there. I just have to be open to finding them.
If you’re of a mind to be entertained by a quick read, check out Avi’s book. If you want to delve deeper into a satirical account of society’s obsession with making a quick buck, and you have a little more time to dig into a great book, check out JR.