Sound on Sound


This inventive first novel deflates the same myths of rock and roll that it glorifies in a vivid exploration of pop culture and the shattered society that emerged from the 1980s.

Hi-Fi, a third-rate New York bar band, plays another in a desultory series of low-paying gigs as Reagan's inaugural speech drones from a TV in the background. Equipment falters, band members flex their egos, and the regular crowd shifts from boredom to borderline violence. What begins as an inauspicious...

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This inventive first novel deflates the same myths of rock and roll that it glorifies in a vivid exploration of pop culture and the shattered society that emerged from the 1980s.

Hi-Fi, a third-rate New York bar band, plays another in a desultory series of low-paying gigs as Reagan's inaugural speech drones from a TV in the background. Equipment falters, band members flex their egos, and the regular crowd shifts from boredom to borderline violence. What begins as an inauspicious account of a typical evening at a nightclub soon gives way to a stupefying catalog of trivia about Hi-Fi, the band with the "suburb sound and the suburb feel."

Dalkey Archive Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Flawlessly executed.... funny, perceptive and dead-on the satirical mark." —Publishers Weekly

Dalkey Archive Press

"Living proof that literary genes can be passed from father to son." —Michael Perkins

Dalkey Archive Press

"Sorrentino has used the rock book format (and his superbly pompous 'multitrack' device) as a vehicle for a brilliant and complex novel about remembered truths and modern ennui.... The close of 'Foundation' has a crisp, cinematic grace, and the final 'Playback' crumbles the book's carefully wrought tension with delicious resolve." —Los Angeles Reader

Dalkey Archive Press

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this ambitious first novel, which is structured as a multilayered recording session, the concept behind the plot is flawed, but the story is flawlessly executed. Hi-Fi is a not-yet-famous rock band playing a fateful gig at a seedy New York bar called Cheaters on the night of Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981. From the safety of the '90s, hack writer and Hi-Fi aficionado Paul Marzio attempts to puzzle out the events of that evening, after which Hi-Fi rose to a possibly tainted prominence. The first iteration of ``what happened'' is given without dialogue or judicious description, as if it were the rhythm track. The conceit is nice, but the actual execution of it makes the first 25 pages of the book, which read like a screenplay synopsis, drab and uninteresting. Luckily, the section is followed by a series ``overdubs,'' which include: a list of items numbered like exhibits at a trial; a ``solo'' by our author, Paul; and the conflicting accounts of various Hi-Fi hangers-on and former girlfriends, who attended Cheaters that evening. In the final section, Marzio conducts interviews with the now-famous bandmembers, but nothing produces a clear solution to the narrative puzzle. Sorrentino gets away with a lot through sheer virtuosity. After the slow first layer, he completes the formal exercise he's set for himself with great vigor, and his writing, when he paints a scene, is funny, perceptive and dead-on the satirical mark. (May)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781564780737
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 210
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Sorrentino

Christopher Sorrentino (born May 20, 1963) is an American novelist and short story writer of Puerto Rican descent. He is the son of novelist Gilbert Sorrentino and Victoria Ortiz. His first published novel, Sound on Sound (1995), draws upon innovations pioneered in the work of his father, but also contains echoes of many other modernist and postmodernist writers. The book is structured according to the format of a multitrack recording session, with corresponding section titles ("Secondary Percussion", "Vocals", "Playback", and so forth).

His second novel, Trance (2005), an epic fictional treatment of the Patty Hearst saga, used many of the same experimental techniques as Sound on Sound, but, according to Sorrentino, incorporated them more carefully and subtly into the text. The book was widely praised for its lush descriptions, riveting characterizations and dialogue, imaginative departures, and attention to period detail. Trance ended up on several reviewers' "best" lists, was named a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award for Fiction, and was longlisted for the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In 2009, Trance was named one of the "61 Essential Postmodern Reads" by the Los Angeles Times.

Dalkey Archive Press


Christopher Sorrentino is the author of a previous novel, Sound on Sound. He has contributed fiction, essays, and criticism to The Baffler, Bookforum, Conjunctions, Fence, and McSweeney's, among other publications and is a contributor to Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers: Writers on Comics. He lives in Brooklyn.

Author biography courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview wth Sorrentino:

"My first book was a dystopic science fiction novel that I wrote when I was 12, entitled The Life and Hard Times of Earth and Earthlings. The idea was that in the not-too-distant future, citizens of the U.S. would have a metered amount of noise they were permitted to make each month. The pretext for this restriction was that noise pollution had reached intolerable levels, but in fact it was a means by which the state suppressed free speech. The novel is notable mostly for its moments of unintentional hilarity."

"I finished the final draft of Trance on Bloomsday, 2004."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 20, 1963
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended Hunter College

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2003

    The best book you've never heard of. . .

    This is definitely the best book you've never heard of. Appearing a year before Infinite Jest, the book scoops Wallace in at least a couple of respects, and does it in much less time. Sorrentino resists naturalistic writing techniques but in the end his characters emerge as fully developed people--he's just allowed you to witness their development. The book's handling of its theme (corruption and waste as the eighties hit the ground running) may add up to the most trenchant ''80s Novel' yet. Sorrentino has a wonderful gift for parody and he employs it to full effect...the book contains echoes of Robe Grillet, Quineau, Calvino, Joyce, Delillo, Gaddis, Faulkner, Selby, Debord, Steven Dixon, and, last but not least, Gilbert Sorrentino, the author's dad. And, incidentally, one of the most important rock 'n' roll novels ever written. Since the publisher apparently never plans to bring it out in paperback, I'd go for a remaindered copy.

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