To tell the truth is to tell a lie, he persuades us. More importantly, he suggests, to tell a lie is to tell a truth, if the listener knows how to hear what isn’t said. Within the words, between them, because of them, there are complex implications. Nothing is simple because the simplest word in context is bursting with possible meanings:
—That’s not what it was.
—What what was, the …
—I said that’s not what it was!
Through the action of his prose, Gaddis demonstrates the investigative potential of imaginative thought. He shows us how we can think beyond what we know if we think hard. He makes us think about the potential for reaction. He makes us think about the consequences of doing nothing.
I met him only once, at a dinner in Washington, D.C. On that occasion he invited all of us at the table to touch the bulge of his pacemaker beneath the skin of his chest. He ate his meal mostly in silence. He seemed admirably cautious about giving his opinion but proved himself to be the most decisive among us when action needed to be taken. There was, I recall, a fat, happy cockroach climbing up the wall beside our table in that fancy restaurant. A cockroach on its way home from its own good dinner. First one of us stared at the bug. Then another in our group noticed that the other was staring. Soon five out of six of us were staring. Then the sixth member of our part, a gentleman with the pacemaker, the best-dressed among us, Mr. William Gaddis, noticed that something was on the wall behind him had caught our attention. He pivoted his chair to see it for himself. Without hesitation, he thumped his fist against the wall, leaving a stain in place of the cockroach. Then he wiped his hand on his napkin and returned to his meal.
“What what was, the.” Suggesting with every intricate phrase that those who pay attention to language are the ones who will know best how to respond.