Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino
Gilbert Sorrentino's third novel is about the New York artistic and literary world of the 1950s and '60s, specifically the artists, writers, hangers-on, and the phonies who populated that world. In a prose that is ruthless as well as possessed of an enormous comic verve, the dedicated, the stupid, the rapacious, and the foolish are dissected. Eight major characters, many of whom reappear in Sorrentino's later novels, are employed to allow the reader a variety of views of the same world. Told in the weary voice of a cynical and sardonic narrator, the novel is crammed with fantastic characters, incidents, and episodes, and moves from wit and satire through elegiac brooding, to bitter invective. It is a superb re-creation of a real time and place.
"Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is a bitter, funny, and moving work of fiction about . . . the way life and art feed off one anotherand starve one another too. . . . The lives of these characters are realized with a remorseless energy that I find admirable." (Robert Scholes, Saturday Review 10-23-71)
"There is a truculent intelligence behind it all, one given to outrage and joy. . . . Its power is unmistakable and its design ambitious, the right sort of antidote for the fakery, the foundation men, and the hangers-on in the literary world." (Paul Theroux, Washington Post Book World 11-7-71)
"The book has aged well: The world may look different now and new fashions may prevail but the phony, like the poor, will be with us always. . . . Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things has that air of astonished contempt that keeps true satire fresh forever." (Michael Heyward, Washington Post Book World 12-22-91)
"[T]he author's fury at it all is tempered . . . and augmented with compassion, understanding [and] wit." (Publishers Weekly 11-1-91)
"His purpose is creative, not destructive, even though his creation will destroy some myths and haze any number of people who care to find themselves embodied here. . . . Gilbert Sorrentino has kept a steady hand on this bucking book and neither reader nor character will take over. This is part of the book's refusal to submit to the age of take-over. . . . The novel is also a kind of destruction of fake, skim-surface symbolism. . . . The richness of this book is hard to describe." (Gregory Rabassa, The Nation 8-21-72)
Gilbert Sorrentino was born in Brooklyn in 1927. He attended Brooklyn College and served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps for two years. In 1956 he began Neon, a literary magazine. In the early '60s he was an editor and a contributor for Kulchur magazine and served as an editor for Grove Press from 1965. He has published thirty books of fiction and poetry, including two novels that were finalists for the PEN/Faulkner award: Little Casino and Aberration of Starlight. A recipient of the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, a Lannan Literary Award, and two Guggenheim Fellowships, he was a professor at Stanford University for many years. He died on May 18, 2006.