Reviewers compare Jonathan Bayliss's fiction to the works of Laurence Sterne, Herman Melville, James Joyce, Hermann Broch, and Robert Musil.
Jonathan Bayliss in his study, Gloucester, 1965
"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, commenting on an early version of Prologos
"Gloucesterbook is a genuine achievement, a literary work of true originality. The real hero here is Place."
"The embankment stretched like a dam across the estuary, a viaduct leading level rails onto the short naked deck of the drawbridge that bore trains high over the deep narrow sluiceway right into the heart of Dogtown. ... But the exposed tracks on this draw, without balustrade or superstructure, were so much higher than the pavement of the Gut Bridge on the esplanade (just out of sight to the south) that it was opened far less often for small craft of business or pleasure ...
"As Caleb watched ... the single bascule, hinged on the far side, began to tilt upward with a steady clanking groan, breaking the transcontinental circuit. From a distance it resembled the opening of a switch knife; but from here, accompanied by the unharmonized rumble of gearwheels in a fixed train of individual speeds pitches and circumferences, the grid of tied rails rising against the sky was more like the lattice of a castle’s portcullis."
GROUNDBREAKING AMERICAN FICTION
Jonathan Bayliss (1926-2009) was a novelist and playwright who lived and worked most of his life in the New England seaport of Gloucester, Massachusetts. His expansive 20th-century fiction series, GLOUCESTERMAN, includes Prologos, Gloucesterbook, Gloucestertide, and Gloucestermas. The four inventive, playful, thought-provoking novels explore the challenges of friendship, love, domestic life, responsibility, and work while also reflecting his wide-ranging interests including history, liturgy, tragedy, systems, nature, dance, engineering, ships, railroads, geography, and politics. The novels may be read in any order. See Catalog and Reviews.
Bayliss also wrote The Tower of Gilgamesh and The Acts of Gilgamesh, two stage plays based loosely on the Sumerian epic; essays about politics and municipal finance; and influential business articles on systems design.
Bayliss grew up in poverty during the Great Depression in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and rural 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.
Beginning in 1950 at a Berkeley bookstore, Bayliss earned a livelihood in analysis, systems, and management. He was controller of Gorton's of Gloucester and had two stints as a manager for the City of Gloucester. Shortly after completing his final novel, Gloucestermas, Bayliss died at the age of 82 in Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital. His ashes are buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"Groundbreaking European fictions, such as Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers and Musil's The Man without Qualities, come to mind as comparisons … 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."
"…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 operating and thought out and felt through and crafted at levels that most of us readers don't deserve. It tries to reach us at a level of discernment and finesse and humor and wisdom that most popular cultural products have almost convinced us doesn't exist."
—Peter Du Brul