This was my first Sorrentino collection, and it’s honest and pure without being depressing. Even the parts about depression were somehow unsinkable. A great deal of humor is within it, a sweet humor as well as snarky realism. For example, in one section, an elderly man pities his upstairs neighbor, another elderly man with a crippled foot. They have no connection, but the downstairs neighbor imagines an entire life for the poor man above, embellishing it with sad little details about war injuries and ungrateful children that allow him to ignore the terrible noise the upstairs man makes. Finally, unable to stand the noise much longer, he goes upstairs and finds a scantily clad woman at the door, who looks at him disdainfully, as he is an old man. Thus the noise is explained and the downstairs neighbor is chastened. Isn’t that how it goes?
Another man is set to review his friend’s published poetry collection, one of several in a successful artistic career. He can’t make himself get to it, and keeps putting it off. Finally, he has to admit it to himself what prevents him: the realization that his friend is “an arrogant, selfish, cruel, egocentric yet charming man of sociopathic bent, to put the very best face on it, changed, oh yes, transformed his public presence into one of a subtly nuanced and delicate humility, transformed his entire life and world into the very picture of the sensitive artist.” And the larger revelation? His friend was a terrible poet in the first place. Immediately you imagine that the reviewer would justify the poet’s corruption if only he had more talent!
The introduction of this novel is also quite touching as it is written by Sorrentino’s son, explaining how his father completed the work despite his debilitating illness, just weeks before his death. I’m eager to see if Sorrentino’s other novels are this style, as it’s an addicting style of prose. Best of all, it's not so sophisticated that the reader feels ignorant (as frequently happens when I read some celebrated writers).
Special thanks to Esther Porter at Coffee House Press for the Review Copy.