10 DECEMBER 2005, Page 38

Alternative reading

Surprising literary ventures Gary Dexter

ANSWERS TO CANCER (1962) by William Gaddis Image courtesy of Washington University, St Louis The William Gaddis canon is limited to five novels (The Recognitions, J. R., Carpenter’s Gothic, A Frolic of his Own and Agapé Agape), now recognised to be among the most distinguished in American literature. His career got off to a bad start, though. His first novel The Recognitions (1955) was either ignored or dismissed as sub-Joycean stuff (Gaddis commented, ‘I recall a most ingenious piece in a Wisconsin quarterly some years ago in which The Recognitions’ debt to Ulysses was established in such minute detail I was doubtful of my own firm recollection of never having read Ulysses.’) So he took up public relations work for 20 years, working for Pfizer, Eastman Kodak, IBM and the US Army, producing classics such as A Pile Fabric Primer, TV for Today’s Education, and the pamphlet Answers to Cancer. What were the answers in the 1960s? If you’ve got a lump, tell your doctor and he’ll cut bits off you, irradiate you or give you chemo. Gaddis himself died of prostate cancer in 1998.