Gilbert Sorrentino: Lunar Follies
Coffee House Press
Big props go out to Gilbert Sorrentino, author of the new literary object Lunar Follies, for his homage to that greatest of all works of perverse short fiction, Kafka's "Cares of a Family Man." In the Kafka fragment, a homebody schlub encounters a being on the family staircase. It's a five-pointed thingamabob shaped somewhat like a spindle or a spool, and it goes by the name Odradek. When asked for his place of origin, the creature lets out an exhausted wheeze and answers, "No fixed abode." (I once had the melancholy pleasure of watching Harold Bloom extend his arms toward a class like a supplicating ghoul and moan the Kafka story's haunting final line--The thought he might outlive me is almost more than I can bear!)
In Lunar Follies, Odradek reappears in a natural-science exhibit, "preserved...in what analysis shows to be a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, and triple-distilled 160 proof Ukrainian vodka." Despite that, it is said, Odradek still lets out squeaks that have a "life-changing" impact on his listeners.
No doubt Sorrentino identifies with the spool-thingy's incantatory noise. In this slender literary piece of monkeyshine, the adventurer composes 53 fragments, arranged alphabetically, each titled with a "geographical feature of the moon." (In this taxonomic perversity, the format can be seen as a riff on absurd outings like Walter Abish's Alphabetical Africa and Georges Perec's La Disparition--the latter of which, infamously, is a novel composed without ever using the letter "E.") Each of these luna-toon chapters is a svelte review of some work of postmodern art. But lacerating the beard-stroking pretensions of highbrow art journals is not Sorrentino's real intent. He sporadically rolls around in the warm hay of the anti-PC bandwagon (as in the text for an AIDS-quilt monograph: "Death loves a mystery. Death can't get started. Death in high heels..."). Mostly, though, Sorrentino uses the book's Whitman's Sampler format to crack his knuckles, flex, and get down to the savory business of using language to scrub experience clean in all its 101 particularities. Each chapter has a slapsticky shtick, and like San Diego's bard of the thesaurus, Alexander Theroux, Sorrentino marshals a vast armory of obscure and forgotten language. Yet though Lunar Follies has its cutesy, academic in-joke side, Sorrentino is serious about using language to see around corners and put out fires before they begin. Behind his sherry-scented mirth lies the quick response time of an emergency medical technician.
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