We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 3, covering pages 247 through 379. Get the schedule here. Purchase the book here and benefit this site. All posts related to this group read are here.
Scanning the comments to our Tunnel Big Read so far, it seems like some us have been getting close to disenchantment with Gass at various points during Week 2’s chunk of text. I do readily admit that at certain stretches I find The Tunnel frustrating, although that only means that (in my experience) it joins a number of other postmodern works that are widely regarded, including Gravity’s Rainbow, The Recognitions, Underworld, Terra Nostra, 2666, even Nabokov’s Ada, War & War, and Europe Central. I do think the dull stretches are more than compensated for by the stretches that work for me (which I’d say is maybe 80%-20% in favor of the stretches that work), and I’m willing to grant Gass his eccentricities in pursuit of his vision, as I have done for so many other authors before him.
More than that, however, it’s during Week 3’s reading that I’m really beginning to feel like this work is coming together for me. It’s still obviously a very baggy, digressive, and even self-indulgent book, but now I feel pretty clear that I have coordinates to navigate this book by. There are the Kohler’s Youth sections, dealing with his parents and the Depression-era Midwest (which I find beautiful portraits of both); the Workplace sections where Kohler details his relationships with his colleagues and his general disenchantment with academia (which I find interesting in a claustrophobic, unreliable sort of way); the Ranty sections where Kohler spews his bile about his life and the world in general; the Lou, Martha, and Susu sections, where Kohler details the failures of his love lives; the emerging PdP sections where Kohler is beginning to show his fascist leanings; and of course the Philosophical Mad Meg sections, where Kohler gives us the philosophical meat of the book (and I found the portrait of Magus on his deathbed in this week’s chunk of text incredibly well done).
The thing about The Tunnel, in my read, is that Gass frequently combines these various strands, even going so far as to weave among them at the level of sentence, image, and metaphor. This was, of course, very, very difficult at the beginning of the book when I had very little sense of Kohler as a whole, but the more I come to comprehend the organization of his life, the more I’m able to appreciate the choreography of the book for its beauty, despite the general difficulty and occasional obscurity.
For my own part that has been my experience of The Tunnel, and as I read I find myself picking up steam. It’s completely understanding if other people find the book too cumbersome, and I will readily admit that Gass’s prose and jokes can seem occasionally indulgent and even childish (I’ve long since accustomed myself to overcoming that hurdle to enjoy the larger pleasures of Gass’s writing). I’ll be interested to hear how everyone else feels about this book as we go on, why you want to drop out, if that’s what you’ve chosen to do, or why you’re continuing, if that’s what you’re doing.