SOUND ON SOUND by Christopher Sorrentino


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 Sorrentino's first novel erects a complex structure for what is ultimately a simple premise: that rock-and-roll in the 1980's reflected the decade's greed and ambition. Rather than tell a straightforward tale of a typical eighties band, Sorrentino layers his text with all kinds of pretentious technique. The structural conceit relies on a parallel to sound recording. Each section of the novel is meant to resemble another track, creating--yes, he alludes to it--a Rashomon effect. In this drab work, though, the result is cacophony. Even Rashomon stuck to only four points of view, but Sorrentino gives everyone a voice, and their visions of what really happened are so disparate that you have to wonder whether they aren't all candidates for the bin. At the narrative's center is a band: Hi-Fi, a punkish, thrash, metal group conceived in the early 80's by some well-heeled children of Manhattan liberal-bohemian parents. After an affectless, unembellished account of their first night in a midtown dive, Sorrentino layers on ``dubs,'' including a set of footnotes to the first section. The first ``solo'' is by a pretentious twit whose pompous diction reveals his contempt for everything related to rock. This bad bit of Nabokov is followed by nine more versions of the band's history, some claiming they lasted only that single evening, others recounting their rise to commercial fame. Each section reflects the style and worldview of the teller (e.g., one lovestruck groupie tells her tale in the breathless prose of a romance novel). By the end, few are likely to care whether the last section is in fact the most likely to be true. A bloodless narrative that reads like a notebook for a novel, an exercise in style, or an academic deconstruction of rock culture--none of which has enough to do with the pulse of the music itself.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1995
ISBN: 1-56478-073-2
Page count: 210pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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