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The New Pantheon

Attention Must Be Paid #55

Gilbert Sorentino's new novel proves writers can be gone but not forgotten.

Book Cover My guess is very few of you have read novelist Gilbert Sorrentino (Mulligan Stew, Gold Fools), probably through no fault of yours, and most certainly through no fault of his.

This accomplished writer, who was felled by the big C in 2006, had published over 30 books, mostly fiction, and despite a degree-less CV had taught at Stanford University for more than two decades. His newest publication (such is a measure of immortality granted to writers), The Abyss of Human Illusion (CoffeeHouse Press), was written in his waning days.

His son, novelist Christopher Sorrentino (Trance), who edited the text, offers assurance in the book’s preface: “My father, who never had a problem burying work that dissatisfied him, made quite clear his intention and desire that this book be published.… It is, in the end, a book to which he literally brought the fullest measure of his energy and ability.”

Observes Josuah Cohen:
Gilbert Sorrentino’s last novel… perfects a technique a decade in the making… Abyss marks a return to endnotes, which isolate lines of body text to remark on them after the body itself has concluded.

The anecdote provides the fiction, while the commentary provides the awareness that fiction is being perpetrated. Here, then, is metafiction’s most winnowed form, and such posthumous commentary—half Talmudic gloss, half peanut gallery punchline—is Abyss’s deftest gesture and Sorrentino’s great formal innovation.
The title is taken from a passage in a Henry James novel (which I suppose should mean something), and the book is structured in 50 pieces of various lengths encapsulating Sorrentino’s black humorous take on the big questions—and small ones also.

Novelist Sam Lipsyte (The Ask) pens an original tribute:
It’s still hard to accept a world without the great Gilbert Sorrentino writing in it. Over the last several decades, nobody that smart was ever funnier, nobody that funny was ever a better prose artist, nobody that original was ever more attuned to the pain and trickiness of being—and thinking about being—human. That his final book evinces all the complexity, poetry and dark mirth that made him so revered might not surprise, but it does inspire. I don’t knew if you needed all the information provided above—Sorrentino had me with the title, which has a kind of resonance.
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