By William Caddis
Anyone who dreams of their day in court might wisely heed the plight of Oscar Crease, the hero of A Frolic of His Own. Plaintiff, defendant and lay expert in countless lawsuits, Oscar lounges around his dilapidated Long Island estate waiting (or news of any impending settlement. When he is not drinking exotic wine or watching nature shows on television, he is railing against a system that he expects to compensate him.
Oscar’s current obsession is his plagiarism suit against the producers of a multimillion-dollar Hollywood movie that bears a striking resemblance to a Civil War-era play he once wrote. As the legalities start to consume him, the novel becomes less about litigation than about finding some reward for life’s misfortunes. Harry, Oscar’s brother-in-law, an attorney himself, realizes how futile this is. “Justice?” he asks. “You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law.” Oscar, his family and friends—all of whom are seeking their own reparations—ignore him. Constantly pleading their cases, they listen to each other only when they gel interrupted.
A Frolic of His Own is written almost entirely in dialogue with little punctuation. Gaddis is an inventive, sophisticated writer. The argument he has prepared for and against Oscar Crease is a dizzy romp of a novel—important, original and intelligent. (Poseidon, $25)