A Strange Commonplace

A Strange Commonplace

by Gilbert Sorrentino

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“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


“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 decades, Gilbert Sorrentino has remained a unique figure in our literature. He reminds us that fiction lives because artists make it. …To the novel—everyone’s novel—Sorrentino brings honor, tradition, and relentless passion.”—Don DeLillo

Borrowing its title from a William Carlos Williams poem, A Strange Commonplace lays bare the secrets and dreams of characters whose lives are intertwined by coincidence and necessity, possessions and experience. Ensnared in a jungle of city streets and suburban bedroom communities from the boozy 1950s to the culturally vacuous present, lines blur between families and acquaintances, violence and love, hope and despair. As fathers try to connect with their children, as writers struggle for credibility, as wives walk out, and an old man plays Russian roulette with a deck of cards, their stories resonate with poignancy and savage humor—familiar, tragic, and cathartic.

Gilbert Sorrentino is the author of more than 30 books, including Little Casino, finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. A critical and influential figure in postmodern American literature, he is the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Lannan Literary Award. His frequent appearances on Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm can be heard at www.kcrw.org. Once an editor at Grove Press, Sorrentino is professor emeritus at Stanford University and lives in Brooklyn.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In two sets of 26 brief tales each, Sorrentino (Little Casino) puts life's losers through their paces. Like ever-widening rings in a pond of purposeful noir cliche, their sad-sack stories, some of which share titles across the book's two parts, intentionally fail to connect: "Pair of Deuces" in the first part, for example, listens in on an aged card player ruminating in a retirement home on his lifetime of runs of bad luck, while "Pair of Deuces" in the second part tracks the hopelessly mismatched couplings of Jenny and Ralph and Inez and Bill over Christmastime. "A Small Adventure" in each part follows the fantasies of several wretched, abandoned wives who set out for a bit of sexual fun and revenge. Elsewhere, man leaves wife for floozie secretary; beautiful woman becomes both an object of desire and a victim of sickness and abuse; a barely acquainted couple decide in a wildly futile stab at romance to meet in a year at Rockefeller Center. Sorrentino's virtuosic vernacular shifts convincingly to match different genders and stations. His erratic permutations on familiar themes are set in an anachronistic everyday and somehow manage to be strange, striking and unsettling even as they deliver doom after doom. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This latest novel from PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Sorrentino (emeritus, Stanford Univ.; Little Casino; Aberration of Starlight) takes us through myriad times and spaces, real and dreamt about, in and around a New York City that houses a joyless slew of hackneyed characters and events. Adultery, incest, and rape follow a gray homburg hat and other objects from the 1940s until the present (and back again) as we trail a dozen characters through matching one- to four-page chapters split between Books 1 and 2. A beautiful woman is brutally attacked, a wife attempts to leave her husband and son, a man is shot and killed as he exits a diner, and an old man plays Russian roulette with the help of a deck of cards. Fans of Sorrentino's earlier works should appreciate his continued devotion to metafiction but may miss his playful humor. An optional purchase for most library collections.-Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.-Northeast, TX Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From veteran postmodernist Sorrentino (Trance, 2005, etc), a savage, baffling and beguiling novel about the wreckage that infidelity leaves behind. The book is split into two section composed of 26 brief chapters each. For every chapter in part one there is a chapter with the same title in part two, but there's no clear connection between. And though names, events and objects recur over and over, any attempt to map out the relationships between them is doomed to result in absurd knots. (One Ray, who may have engaged in an incestuous relationship with his niece, Claire, is not the same as Claire's brother, Ray, or her husband, Ray. Maybe.) But the knot itself, not its unraveling, is the point with Sorrentino, a follower of traditions established by Barthelme, Borges and Coover. In this case, the confusion he intentionally generates is meant to undercut the false drama that people attach to their cheating-by making specific details irrelevant, he exposes his characters' sad, self-destructive sameness. The story's color comes from the way each object and place takes on a different resonance depending on the person. Here a pearl-gray homburg is a signifier of dapperness, there a totem of an affair; a rooftop is alternately a place of solace and the site of a rape. Though there's no real narrative arc, the tone of the book does subtly shift from youthfulness to dissolution, and takes on an increasingly violent temperament-the airily described sexual peccadilloes in the early portions become cold and troubling depictions of sexual assault later on. Many postmodern works suffer from clinical, stiff characters, and this one is in many ways no different. But it also gains a more generous tone byits end; infidelity leads to heartbreak, the author notes, but it speaks to a human urge to recapture youth. Not for those who prefer a story told straight.

Product Details

Coffee House Press
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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.

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