At his best, William Gass is a voice that starts with an insistent, tickling trickle and ends in a flood, the sluice gates open to a welter of words and the sky falling.
Now, with as many candles on his cake as a piano has keys, he has published “Middle C,” his third novel and sixth volume of fiction. Neither as physically imposing nor as psychically threatening as his 1995 opus, “The Tunnel,” Gass’s new novel is nonetheless extraordinary. Stuffed with allusions ranging from Keats to Yeats and replete with puns and rhymes and run-ons, its prose is as knowing as Gertrude Stein’s rose. And while “Middle C” can be read as the realistic story of a good and sympathetic man struggling to be moral in the second half of the 20th century, it is also a religious allegory and a philosophical meditation on language and consciousness as the source of evil.