BY JONATHAN BAYLISS
Reviewers have compared Jonathan Bayliss's groundbreaking fiction — the tetralogy GLOUCESTERMAN — to the works of Sterne, Melville, Joyce, Broch, and Musil.
The four expansive, inventive, playful, thought-provoking novels explore Bayliss's wide-ranging interests including history, liturgy, tragedy, systems, nature, engineering, ships, railroads, geography, and politics — as well as the challenges of friendship, love, domestic life, responsibility, and work.
The tetralogy GLOUCESTERMAN is headed by Prologos (1999) and includes the trilogy
Gloucesterbook (1992), Gloucestertide (1996), and Gloucestermas (2010). The novels may be read in any order.
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Prologos is Jonathan Bayliss’s sparkling, complex, experimental, playful, serious, richly detailed literary masterpiece of the 20th century — whose protagonist, Michael Chapman, is the “author” or “controller” of the other three novels in Bayliss’s GLOUCESTERMAN tetralogy.
The foreground is California’s Bay Area about a decade after the end of World War 2. The background is the pre-war East Coast (Cambridge, Gloucester, Manhattan) and the wartime and post-war Pacific of Chapman’s Naval service. Living in Oakland with wife and children, he yearns for the Gloucester that he left as a child, and for the European world he’s never seen. He is torn three ways — by domestic love, by the practical matters of his livelihood, and by the conflicts of intellectual life.
No one reader will sympathize with all the manias or crochets either of Chapman or of his friend Caleb Karcist. But a thoughtful reading will engage almost anyone’s mind with the novel’s intellectual departures from traditional narrative. Prologos generates anthropological, economic, technical, and literary ideas from a base of erotic and social realism.
"Prologos is among the most significant experiments in narrative form in the last fifty years of American fiction."
"The English novel has been restored in this fucking book by Bayliss."
—Charles Olson, 1966, commenting on an early version of the manuscript
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Bayliss (1926-2009), novelist and playwright, grew up during the Great Depression in Cambridge, Massachuetts, and Vermont. He began college at Harvard, leaving after his freshman year to enlist in the Navy during World War 2. After the War he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. While writing his novels and Gilgamesh plays, Bayliss earned a livelihood in sales analysis and management, beginning in 1950 at a Berkeley bookstore. He was controller of Gorton's of Gloucester and had two stints as a manager for the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
The novels may be read in any order. Interspersed are Bayliss's Gilgamesh plays (The Tower of Gilgamesh in Gloucestertide; The Acts of Gilgamesh in Gloucestermas).
"…a learned, intellectual, and demanding work — although it is never obscure, opaque, or capricious. The author is not trying to puzzle us. He takes us, rather, on a highly controlled exploration … There's a vivacity, a profusion of intellect, style, detail, an exuberance and plenitude that recall Melville's or, at other moments, Whitman's."
"Gloucesterbook is a genuine achievement, a literary work of true originality. The real hero here is Place."
"James Joyce gave us the living, breathing Dublin through the prism of myth; Jonathan Bayliss’s “counterfactual” Gloucester is no less vital, and his understanding of local and national political life is equally profound."
"Groundbreaking European fictions, such as Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers and Musil's The Man without Qualities, come to mind as comparisons … It returns the novel in English to its experimental roots, with the wit and outrageous inventiveness of Tristram Shandy. Jonathan Bayliss uses language in a way that makes our native tongue come alive for us as though we were experiencing it for the first time in all its freshness and hard-edge originality.