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Willie Master's Lonesome Wife by William H. Gass

Friday, July 4, 2014 § 0

Willie Master's Lonesome Wife: An Erotic Mini-Novel Featuring Innovative Typographic Design

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Willie Master's Lonesome Wife (1968) by William H. Gass, first published as TriQuarterly Supplement Number Two, is an innovative mini-novel which features black and white photographs of a nude model, who resembles a modern Madame Bovary or Molly Bloom in a text written as an interior monologue, a narrative technique that reveals the female perspective, as Babs considers the concept of eroticism envisioned in a sequence of male acquaintances who make up the contents of her psyche. The innovative design of the text includes variations in type font with alternations between serif, bold, and sans serif fonts, and with the use of line bending typographical effects to create optical typographic phenomenon. The technique of reverse lettering creates an effect similar to Echos (1979) by Maurice Roche, where one page echos another, a trend which is reminiscent of the Op Art of the 1960s. For those who enjoy eroticism Willie Masters' Lonesome wife reveals the mind of a woman who similar to Molly Bloom from the final chapter of Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce, a psychological technique that reveals the contents of the unconscious mind of a muse who compares the appearance of several of her lovers, as she finds her own favorite among the prospective bachelors. 


She had so wanted lobes when she was young. To dangle diamonds from, and pearls in petals of silver, spills of crimson glass or wheels of polished jade or even jasper, a match for her hair.
                                                              Willie Masters'
                                                              Lonesome Wife
                                                              William H. Gass

The idea of wearing earrings inspires Babs in a poetic passage that anticipates the innovative fiction of the 21st Century, while most of Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife is written as a typical William H. Gass story with references to an ancient epoch of American history, a perspective that he used in Omensetter's Luck (1966) by William H. Gass, and reminds us of the Boston school of American literature with authors Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allen Poe.

Well you've always had your own wash working for you, sloshing about—an inland sea foaming up against its rocks (how grand that's put, how grand), and you don't mind it. You don't go hithering and thithering, do you?
                                                             Willie Masters'
                                                             Lonesome Wife
                                                             William H. Gass 

The inland seas of America were evident during the dinosaur era, and with William H. Gass the chronological time frame of the mini-novel extends back to ancient times with a continuity of love embodied in the erotic muse Babs, a woman who inspires the men to accomplish the deeds of a provider for the family. 

It's called the wine of love because, when drunk, it signifies the wine of acceptance. That's my theory. There's no woman who's not, deep inside her, theoretical. That's why we love in men, not them, but place and reputation—money, honor, age, effects, and aura—radiation; not them, but their love, we love—our idea and transubstantiating notion of them. That's my theory.
                                                              Willie Masters' 
                                                              Lonesome Wife
                                                              William H. Gass

Love for the men who love Babs is the theme of this erotic story, and theoretical fiction creates the added intellectual fascination that leads to acceptance. The theories of the semiotic novel when applied to the ribald tale, a genre associated with the literature of Playboy, create a humorous approach to sexuality that liberates it from secrecy or the repressed contents of the unconscious mind. 

I dream like Madame Bovary. Only I don't die during endings. I never die. They fall asleep on me and shrivel up. I write the finis for them, close the covers, shelf the book. But I don't understand what excites them in the first place. It's nothing about me; it's not me they love.
                                                            Willie Masters' 
                                                            Lonesome Wife
                                                            William H. Gass

This intertextual reference is to Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert which inspires the modern novel with its portrait of a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, and a century later Babs cannot understand what excites men when they interact with her, and feels she is writing the book for the men, deciding on the ending, shelving the book for them. This is where the muse Babs feels she is determining the plot of the mini-novel, and that she is helping the author become a success in life. 

This is called abstraction, sometimes love, and always the art of writing, whereby ideas taken like a cutpurse from the coat and trousers of particular Beings become general representatives of all of the same kind... Thus the same color being observed today in chalk or snow, which the mind yesterday received from milk, it considers the appearance alone, hard, soft, or liquid elects it a representative of all of that kind, chalkwhite, snowwhite, milkwhite white as the moon on the mail...

                                                              Willie Masters'
                                                              Lonesome Wife
                                                              William H. Gass

Abstraction in fiction has evolved from 20th Century art producing a more sophisticated mini-novel with the use of innovative typographic design, and the inclusion of black and white erotic photos. The stream-of-consciousness interior monologue of the muse Babs expresses a well developed esthetic appreciation for art. The narrator has married a topless dancer, and is exploring sexuality from the perspective of the avant garde text which embodies alternating type fonts and special effects.

The typography of Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife is quite literally a vivid experience for the reader. The visual effect of the text often functions as importantly in the work as what the words connote. Gass is demonstrating and emphasizing the physical presence of language on the page. 
                                                    Frontiers of Fiction: 
                                                    The Theory and Practice 
                                                    of William H. Gass 
                                                    William Neal Ellis 

The visual avant garde text Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife by Wiliam H. Gass is a classic of 1960s innovative fiction, a trend that is evolving into a more sophisticated blending of art and fiction in the 21st Century novel when graphic images can easily be included in a text with the use of Adobe software. We also see the liberation of sexuality with the celebration of eroticism in a theoretical fiction that uses erotic images to enhance the pleasure of the text. Innovative erotica that uses photography and typographic design has become the semiotic mini-novel which places Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife (1968) by William H. Gass at the forefront of the innovative graphic novel.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He edits Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.













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