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The Abyss of Human Illusion

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“To the novel—everyone’s novel—Sorrentino brings honor, tradition, and relentless passion.”—Don DeLillo

“Sorrentino [is] a writer like no other. He’s learned, companionable, ribald, brave, mathematical, at once virtuosic and somehow without ego. Sorrentino’s books break free of the routine that inevitably accompanies traditional narrative and through a passionate renunciation shine with an unforgiving, yet cleansing, light.”—Jeffrey Eugenides

“For a compelling, hilarious, and ultimately compassionate rendering of life in mid-20th-century America, ...

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The Abyss of Human Illusion

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Overview

“To the novel—everyone’s novel—Sorrentino brings honor, tradition, and relentless passion.”—Don DeLillo

“Sorrentino [is] a writer like no other. He’s learned, companionable, ribald, brave, mathematical, at once virtuosic and somehow without ego. Sorrentino’s books break free of the routine that inevitably accompanies traditional narrative and through a passionate renunciation shine with an unforgiving, yet cleansing, light.”—Jeffrey Eugenides

“For a compelling, hilarious, and ultimately compassionate rendering of life in mid-20th-century America, forget the conscientious subjectors and take Gilbert Sorrentino at his golden Word.”—Harry Mathews

“One of [Brooklyn]’s most intriguing and authentic homegrown talents, Sorrentino’s Bay Ridge deserves to be appreciated alongside Malamud’s Crown Heights, Arthur Miller’s Coney Island, Henry Miller’s and Betty Smith’s Williamsburg, Hamill’s and Auster’s Park Slope, and Lethem’s Boerum Hill.”—Bookforum

Titled after a line from Henry James, Gilbert Sorrentino’s final novel consists of fifty narrative set pieces full of savage humor and cathartic passion—an elegiac paean to the bleak world he so brilliantly captured in his long and storied career. Mirroring the inexplicable coincidences, encounters, and hallmarks of modern life, this novel revisits familiar characters—the aging artists, miserable couples, crackerjack salesmen, and drunken soldiers of previous books, placing them in familiar landscapes lost in time between the Depression era and some fraudulent bohemia of the present

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A luminary of American literature, Gilbert Sorrentino was a boyhood friend of Hubert Selby, Jr., a confidant of William Carlos Williams, a two-time PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, and the recipient of a Lannan Literary Lifetime Achievement Award. He taught at Stanford for many years before returning to his native Brooklyn and published over thirty books before his death in 2006.

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Editorial Reviews

Roger Boylan
…[Sorrentino's] final take on life's absurdity…is not so much a novel as a random collection of mini-narratives, some of them variations on previous Sorrentino themes, one a homage to Rimbaud, another a nod to Saul Bellow. They are very entertaining. A lesser writer, or one with less humor, would have allowed himself to wallow in contempt and schadenfreude, and those feelings are certainly present, but Sorrentino, like the great Roman satirists in his ancestry—Juvenal, Suetonius, Martial—has an antic disposition that rises above all that and makes us laugh, not cry…Sorrentino is frequently hilarious, in a vein more Swiftian than postmodern. His tally of life's achievements comes down heavily on the debit side, but his stock-taking is leavened by pity and humor
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This fine, final work by Brooklyn native Sorrentino (1929-2006), author of A Strange Commonplace, finds a rueful charm in the "wretched clichés" of ordinary failure. Edited by his son, Christopher Sorrentino, after the author's death, the novel is comprised of 50 brief, narrative set pieces: a grab bag of memories from childhood, serving in the army, first love, failing marriage, and (presumably) the writer's own life, alternating with a perplexed and paralyzing present. In one instance, a young working-class husband looks miserably for a sign that will reveal the truth behind his wife's demeaning treatment of him. In another, two idealistic school friends-one becoming an English teacher, the other an L.A. talent scout-grow estranged over the years due to the perception of the other's critical scorn. Another piece finds a solitary old man "childless and thrice-divorced," beginning a catalog of all the grievances of his life until it becomes his sole pursuit, bringing him satisfaction and even "a shabby euphoria." Sorrentino's characters take a grim pleasure in stripping life of its illusions.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566892339
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2010
  • Pages: 151
  • Sales rank: 1,387,298
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

A luminary of American literature, Gilbert Sorrentino was a boyhood friend of Hubert Selby, Jr., a confidant of William Carlos Williams, a two-time PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, and the recipient of a Lannan Literary Lifetime Achievement Award. He taught at Stanford for many years before returning to his native Brooklyn and published over thirty books before his death in 2006. The son of Gilbert Sorrentino, Christopher Sorrentino is a novelist and short story writer whose fictional account of the Patty Hearst saga, Trance, was a finalist for the National Book Award. He lives in Brooklyn.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Perfect.

    The Abyss of Human Illusion is aptly titled, given that Sorrentino develops so many of his narrative pieces with the focus on the illusions in everyday life: the assumptions we make, or the events we mentally rehearse for but never act out. This collection is fifty-some short vignettes, not quite a collection of short stories, but still packing just as much of a punch. Most are just two or three pages, and what he can accomplish in so few words is amazing.

    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!


    Sorrentino makes some pokes at my beloved New Yorker magazine (I feel kind of guilty for enjoying it so much!). He makes more than a few allusions to famous people who lacked the talent to back up their legend, but I couldn't place exactly who he meant (I'm sure they know!). He's uncanny at noting the little details that make each person tick. In fact, given the seemingly trivial details he explores, you'd assume the stories would be longer. But it's the specificity of what he describes that allows you to immediately know what he means without pages of descriptions. An amazing gift, because none of the pieces feel short-changed or hurried; all are exactly right.

    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).

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