A STRANGE COMMONPLACE by Gilbert Sorrentino


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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 by its 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.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-56689-182-5
Page count: 154pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2006


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