Americans have for the most part read Samuel Beckett in a motley collection of very thin books. The average educated person typically owns the paperback of "Waiting for Godot" plus a select handful of the numerous other 50-to-60-page volumes, set in large type, that Grove Press issued over the years in a tireless effort to squeeze every penny from its star author, with his famous penchant for brevity. Those who have rationalized the cheese-slice books as apt vessels for Beckett's rigorous art of reduction and withholding may be shocked now by the appearance of a collected works that weighs in at more than 2,000 pages, in four thick volumes. . . .
Beckett, who died in 1989 and found celebrity obscene, obviously hasn't done much for our hype machines lately. As a result, one assumes, Grove has amped up his Centenary Edition with fresh star wattage. The general editor is Paul Auster, and the volumes are introduced by Colm Toibin (Novels I), Salman Rushdie (Novels II), Edward Albee (Dramatic Works) and J. M. Coetzee (Poems, Short Fiction, Criticism). These are heavy hitters, sticking their necks out to appraise the hardest act to follow in the literary generation before them, and their appraisals — mostly illuminating, not uniformly glowing — add a fascinating note of competitiveness to the volumes.