Saturday, May 20, 2006

Gilbert Sorrentino (1929-2006)

The novelist, poet, critic, and editor Gilbert Sorrentino died this past Thursday. I have a special affection for his novel Aberration of Starlight (1980), which draws upon details of Depression-era Brooklyn — Ebinger's bakeries, Owl's Head Park — that were still in place when I was a boy roughly three decades later. Like the characters in the novel, my family lived (when I was very young) in the same neighborhood as Johnny Roventini, the famed "Call for Philip Morris" bellhop. But Aberration of Starlight has much to offer a reader who knows nothing of Brooklyn. It's a postmodern narrative of great comedy and great pathos, told in four sections, each focused on one character's perspective. (Yes, like The Sound and the Fury.) Each section is made of ten smaller sections, each employing a different narrative strategy — a tableau, a letter, a fantasy, a catechism, and so on. (Yes, like Ulysses, times four.) Sorrentino puts all this narrative art to a deeply human purpose. The last time I taught Aberration of Starlight, I could barely read its heartbreaking last paragraph aloud.

Sorrentino's poetry is marked by the influence of William Carlos Williams and Robert Creeley, but there's a tough, curt quality to his poems that's his own. In a different (better) literary culture, Sorrentino's poetry (and his fiction) would be much more widely read. Here's one short poem:

The Morning Roundup

I don't want to hear any news on the radio
about the weather on the weekend. Talk about

Once upon a time
a couple of people were alive
who were friends of mine.

The weathers, the weathers they lived in!
Christ, the sun on those Saturdays.

[from Corrosive Sublimate (1971)]
Three links

      » Gilbert Sorrentino Dead at 77, from the Center for Book Culture
      » Aberration of Starlight, Dalkey Archive Press
      » Gilbert Sorrentino feature, Jacket magazine

comments: 2

Paul Saxton said...

I've put some audio recordings of Sorrentino reading and talking about his work on my blog. They're the same as the ones found on the Lannan and KRCW sites - except these are downloadable mp3s, not streams:

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the link, Paul.