"The world so vividly imagined in the earlier fiction of Jonathan Bayliss is brought here to a fully realized, fully rounded close.
"Gloucestermas connects many of the disparate ideas developed in the other novels, deepens the story of Caleb Karcist in unexpected ways, and offers some of the most remarkable conversations in all of American fiction.
"Jonathan Bayliss’s fiction sets a standard for the 'novel of ideas' that recalls the work of Herman Broch or Thomas Pynchon without the paranoia …
"These are novels in which everything matters: party politics, Christianity, dogs, being a spouse or parent, business efficiency, love, dance, myth, sex, growing old and dying — all pulled together by the special topos that is Gloucester, Massachusetts.
"The action unfolds in a world that is at once recognizable but altered: Gloucester is called Dogtown, Boston is Botolph, Democrats and Republicans are Catholicrats and Protesticans. This re-naming bumps the real world off its foundation just a few inches, with the result that we see things from a sharper, more incisive perspective. Lying behind it all is the adumbration of an enormous system encompassing all art, science, and technology — a general theory of culture whose shape the main characters are in their various ways working toward discerning. These are novels that imagine what it might mean to live a genuinely human life, rooted in a particular place. They occupy a special place in literature."
"Prologos is among the most significant experiments in narrative form in the last fifty years of American fiction."
"In its formal virtuosity, in its brilliant, experimental systemization of plot and setting, in the deep seriousness with which it lays out ideas of tragedy, gender, work, religion, desire, moral responsibility … Bayliss's tetralogy [Gloucesterman] stands as a signal accomplishment in American letters."
" … 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."
"Gloucestermas brings to a close Jonathan Bayliss’s monumental trilogy of novels about Gloucester, Massachusetts in the 20th century.
"One comes away from this extraordinary narrative feat, completed just before the author’s death, humbled by the force of Bayliss’s intelligence, the range of his imagination and the play of his nimble mind.
"Gloucestermas — indeed, the entire tetralogy, beginning with Prologos, which was Bayliss’s lifelong project—is what the art of the novel has always aspired to: the exploration of how we come to be who we are, on the very ground of our being.
"In an age of waning literacy Gloucestermas offers a challenge to be better than our troublingly escapist times, to reach beyond our foreshortened expectations to discover through Bayliss’s uncompromising vision what the narrative is truly capable of achieving.
"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. Though set in the recent past and brilliantly weaving together all the narrative threads of the earlier books, Gloucestermas projects the reader equally into the future, charting the progress of our civic and sensual lives and the life of the American novel itself."
"With its narrative energy and totality of vision, Gloucesterbook is an important contribution to the art of the novel. 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."
"What is the American novel going to look like when it grows up?
"This is not a facetious question, considering that the pure American product, based on native experience and relatively free of European influence — Moby-Dick, for example — is only about a century and a half old.
"While there have been some amazing breakthrough fictions in language and form during the past fifty years, our mainstream novels have largely been realistic in conception, conventional in characterization, and colloquial in diction.
"Jonathan Bayliss’s Gloucestertide, the second in his three-volume sequence, Gloucesterman, turns all that on its head. The sheer scope of Bayliss’s achievement is nothing less than an American ambition as large as Melville’s or Dos Passos’s — three volumes of 600-plus pages each, encompassing what the novelist calls a 'counterfactual history' of one American place, 'Cape Gloucester,' whose principal municipality is 'Dogtown.'
"Equally, Bayliss’s language is not your demotic American. In the author’s hands our native tongue becomes a richer medium, precise yet imaginative, playful yet knowing, 'not by simplifying the complexity of English,' as Bayliss’s narrator explains, 'but by fixing more dimensions of abstraction.'
"By the same token, don’t expect the plot of Gloucestertide to disclose itself to you directly. Yet Bayliss’s story is not un-melodramatic. There’s love in these novels, even sex, and a great deal of the kind of humor that you might find in Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. One of the more hilarious scenes in Gloucestertide is a description of the novel’s protagonist Caleb Karcist and his elusive sweetheart Lilian Mooncloud 'parking' late at night on the wharf at the old Tarr and Wonson Copper Paint Factory (Bayliss calls it 'Dogtown Net and Twine Manufactory.')
"But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I want to say most importantly about Gloucestertide is that in calling his sequence of novels 'counterfactual history,' or 'what didn’t happen,' Bayliss, who has lived in Gloucester for 40 years, is creating a myth based on life in the community as he has experienced it as an ordinary citizen, as a business analyst and Controller at Gorton’s, as Mayor Leo Alper’s administrative assistant, and, finally, as City Treasurer. This is not a typical curriculum vitae for a writer of fiction. Nor is Bayliss attempting to 'tell all' in these novels. There are no deep secrets about city government that he is revealing, nor does he let us see behind the veil of a great corporation’s daily transactions, although his insights into the interface between corporate capitalism and cybernetics are incisive. Instead, Bayliss gives us the larger truths—the myths—about how people live in any human community. To him the novel is still 'our quintessential medium of experience.'
"In order to achieve this, Bayliss has created a structure for his tripartite sequence … The novels are the creation or 'transfiction,' of Controller Michael Chapman, former resident of Cape Gloucester, currently in 'exisle' (literally 'off-island') as Controller of Tubalcain Manufacturing Company, located in the Bay Area of 'Cornucopia'. Like God in the universe, Chapman is invisible in the narrative, though his hand is everywhere evident. Chapman has an agent in Cape Gloucester, Raphael Opsimath, who comes to explore the community’s 'magnetic attraction,' while studying as an MBA student at White Quarry College under Dogtown writer Ipsissimus Charlemagne, who, suspiciously, has both the great height and intellectual breadth of the late poet Charles Olson.
"Much of the action of Gloucesterbook is seen through Opsimath’s eyes; but the central consciousness of Gloucestertide is that of Caleb Karcist, friend of Chapman and Opsimath (a dog’s eye view of the action is also provided by Karcist’s Viking Shepherd, Ibi-Roy). Young Caleb is an associate at the Laboratory of Melchizedec and Mesocosm, a local religious order and economic and social 'think tank.' And one of the novel’s archetypal themes is Karcist’s quest for the identity of his father. Caleb is also writing a play, The Tower of Gilgamesh, about the legendary Mesopotamian ruler, who sought both his own origins and immortality. The text of Caleb’s play is folded into the narrative, offering a further commentary on the characters’ actions and a key to the deep structure of this innovative fiction.
"Like its predecessor Gloucesterbook, Gloucestertide is a demanding novel. It asks for the kind of patience and attention that many readers may have lost the habit of. But it is also rewarding, for Bayliss’s game of words and identities is only one level of the play of his remarkable intelligence, an intelligence that has for long been missing from most American fiction."