This collection of new and old stories from poet and novelist Sorrentino (Mulligan Stew) hews to a self-consciously modernist agenda. Many of the pieces are different versions of a single narrative about adulterous triangles connecting mediocre writers, their sexually voracious wives and their backstabbing business associates, set in a sour New York-San Francisco milieu of beatnik literary wannabes and "deadbeats." The caustic realism of these stories about the falsity of art and love in postwar urban America is accompanied by an ironic meta-commentary on the falsity of literary realism itself, in which Sorrentino bemoans the unreliability of the narrator, advertises his own writerly artifices ("Now I come to the literary part of the story.... I grant you it will be unbelievable") and decries the middlebrow conventions that make such artifice commercially necessary. His own highbrow allegiances are proclaimed in hallucinatory passages composed of the sort of cryptic non sequiturs ("Bossed by one schemer, so slow in sliding along the blue, horizontal mime who had stretched from one hem to the next, an idle guttersnipe bawled in humping a whore whom a pimp's trull had long since sassed") his admirers call "Joycean" for their intense, enigmatic imagery. But underneath Sorrentino's cynical tone and avant-garde stylings, his themes-art corrupted by ambition and commerce, youthful desire corrupted by marriage-reveal him to be a romantic at heart. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Two hallmarks of this collection by longtime experimentalist Sorrentino (Mulligan Stew; Little Casino) are the author's conversational tone and the constant awareness that one is reading Sorrentino. Within each story, he emphasizes his choices regarding style, structure, and plot development, then proceeds forward. The reader willing to accept these intrusions will find Sorrentino to be a wise and witty man indeed. There are small, enigmatic pieces, like "Lost in the Stars," regarding the shared sexual fantasies of a businessman and a terrorist; the warped yet inventive "Pastilles," which chronicles one man's obsession with fruit; and the riotous "The Dignity of Labor," in blackout sketches featuring four interrelated employee viewpoints, proves the opposite. However, the latter part of the book is devoted to an intensely personal set of stories that, owing to the first-person confessional style, seems to place the author in a complex sexual situation, the repercussions of which still occupy his mind some 40 years later. Fictional or not, themes of sexual betrayal, cruelty, and aberrance bleed through a good number of these stories, which feel much like an exorcising of demons. Readers who haven't tried Sorrentino before would do well to start with this varied volume.-Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.