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Aberration of Starlight
by Gilbert Sorrentino (Penguin)
Review by John Gabree

There isn't much point in recounting the plot of Gilbert Sorrentino's forcefully written comedy about family life because the story is only incidental to the novel's obsession with language. The book is word-drunk. Simple descriptions swell into page-long torrents of imagery. Conversational English is turned into poetry. Slang is slung with the improvisational zest of bebop solos.

Sorrentino also jazzes up literary forms. Letters, dialogues, hilarious series of questions and answers, memories, fantasies, straight narratives are all thrown into the stew. Mostly, there is dialogue. His characters talk about love and sex and growing old. They talk about relationships and how life should be and how it is. And as they talk they draw you into a web of words that eventually holds you in its thrall.

What Sorrentino does in this novel is hook us on bait we'd reject on the end of anyone else's line. Never for a moment are we permitted to forget that all of this is artificial, constructed by the artist out of man-made materials. Yet even as we remind ourselves - even as the artist himself reminds us - that we are being gulled by artifice, he makes us laugh, and then, the harder trick, makes us cry.

Most readers feel more at ease with conventional narrative fiction. We like a well-told story, believable people and in believable situations. Donald Barthelme and others have introduced us to the pleasure of stories whose only subject is words. Sorrentino is a compassionate and imaginative writer and even if he isn't always conventional he is always entertaining, illuminating and fun. (1981)



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