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Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

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Wildly comic and bitterly satiric, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is Gilbert Sorrentino's ruthless, and timeless, attack on the New York art world of the 1950s and '60s. Among the best of Sorrentino's novels, Imaginative Qualities is also, quite simply, the best American novel ever written about writers and artists.

243 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1971

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About the author

Gilbert Sorrentino

60 books114 followers
Gilbert Sorrentino was one of the founders (1956, together with Hubert Selby Jr.) and the editor (1956-1960) of the literary magazine Neon, the editor for Kulchur (1961-1963), and an editor at Grove Press (1965-1970). Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) and The Autobiography of Malcolm X are among his editorial projects. Later he took up positions at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, the University of Scranton and the New School for Social Research in New York and then was a professor of English at Stanford University (1982-1999). The novelists Jeffrey Eugenides and Nicole Krauss were among his students, and his son, Christopher Sorrentino, is the author of the novels Sound on Sound and Trance.

Mulligan Stew is considered Sorrentino's masterpiece.

Obituary from The Guardian

Interview 2006

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Profile Image for s.penkevich.
855 reviews5,868 followers
October 27, 2022
There is no place for an artist here any more. He has been officially dismissed in favor of the entertainer.

Gilbert Sorrentino mourns the artist, the true purveyor of prose drowning in the growing mass of fakers and sell-outs whose false glamour makes them the candle in which the literary flies will be immolate themselves. Through the voice of his spurned narrator, each chapter dissects the little-to-no-talented lives of several archetypal artists in the 50’s and 60’s New York art world and pins the autopsy up in hilariously brutal rants. Imaginative Qualities of Actual Thingsis the perfect novel to read alongside Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet; while Rilke builds a beautiful portrait of prose to empower one down the path of good writing and places warning signs to direct away from pitfalls, Sorrentino investigates the dangerous wayward souls. Within his scathing assaults on the artistic society of his times, Sorrentino delivers a poignant satirical commentary on the forms and fixtures of both good and bad writing.

This is a book about destruction,’ Sorrentino’s narrator writes, ‘No tool to be found here with which to build the new society. I would say that this work is to be taken slowly, more like an antidote.’ Each crumbling life highlights the fakery and falseness that he felt plagued his world and his examinations expose the inner pretentiousness and weaknesses in us all. The comedy is rich, the voice sharp and cutting, and nobody is able to reach the other side without seeing a bit of themselves in his attacks. With any hope, Sorrentino’s message reaches the readers hearts and reminds them to purify their artistic souls and do what is right for their work. Across each chapter is an artist whose weakness in character and life is transposed into the art they hide behind. They suffer self-loathing and each other as they wed and bed their way through artistic circles. They suffer ‘the devastating strain of trying to appear happy.’ Yet, despite all their poor abilities and shameful habits, they manage to make a name for themselves while our bitter narrator, with his wealth of knowledge, remains the recipient of rejection letters.
The support of third-rate artists should be left to those who can best support them – universities and foundations. It tends to prevent them from prostrating you with boredom as they go into their nobody-has-the-courage-to-listen-to-me act. Everybody gets a piece of the action and art remains a game for the intelligent.
Sorrentino has much to say about the art game. ‘Art as mathematics,’ he writes, ‘good students and bad. It is a matter of how one’s intelligence is fitted to the social possibilities of the environment, no?’However, Sorrentino warns against a world where it is those who succeed in their environment trump the true ‘good students’. It is a world of ‘talented amateurs’ that plague their own world with their shallowness and fakery. It isn’t just the bad authors, but those who receive them as well – the critics and readers. The attacks on critics and editors are some of the most aggressive, despite his insistence that all he really needs a good review. He writes of these critics ‘bitching, bitching, moaning about greatness, and when they are presented with it, they spit on it.’ The real artist is ‘hated and feared – these emotions disguised as admiration.’ While the critics want what is real and good, they reject it for what entertains, what sells, with no regard for the health of literature.
There is no body of work in literature that, conceived of as some kind of diversion from the stringencies of art, will not rot and its putrescence affect the population…they think they can insult language and it not matter. I see those lusterless words putrefacting, sinking into a soured mulch that will poison the earth the writers thought to celebrate.
Art leaves a residue in the hearts of its readers/viewers where it grows in society. Sorrentino warns that as we embrace poor art in place of pure art, we allow the bad to flourish with more and more bad art while the true artist withers. We embrace it because it is easy, because it is attractive, appeals to our baseness, our sexuality, but not our intelligence. We circle the flame of fakery and burn up in the process.

This book will bring about endless laughter and exhaust the ink supply of your favorite pen if you try to underline every brilliant passage. However, the characters are only funny through Sorrentino’s scathing criticisms. ‘What is more irritating is to meet real people in the street, at parties, in bars, etc., who have mad it the same way. That’s not so funny at all…’ The metafictional qualities of this novel is the true charm. Sorrentino never lets the reader drift into their illusions and consistently reminds them that these characters are just that – fictional characters. They represent the falseness he despises, and while they may be an amalgamation of people Sorrentino knew in real life, they are only ‘imaginative qualities of actual things.’ He has a gift for creating believable characters out of archetypes by always showing how he doesn’t ‘understand the motivations of these characters I’ve invented’ and having them act in strange ways that even he writes about not understanding. There is an incredibly impressive balance between creating characters that seem to walk right off the page (a few that he claims impose themselves on the novel despite his desire to keep them out of it), yet always keeping the reader grounded in their knowledge that these characters – the narrator included – are fictions. Like how a tiger in a zoo becomes an object of amusement instead of a dangerous predator, Sorrentino chains the enemies of art up in prose and cages them behind the bars of his fiction where they cannot harm us.

His breaks from the story often place emphasis on his own literary devices beyond character creation. He often jokingly offers possible futures for his characters, subtly touching upon how each serves a literary purpose and chastises the plot devices that would appear as overly cliché (especially when using these devices to serve just that ironic purpose). His arrogance and exasperation against possible critiques on his style make for wonderful rants.
But one of the basic reasons for this list is to allow numbskull reviewers to tell their readers that it is merely an avant-garde convention, employed since Joyce. Further, that the use of these lists is a method whereby the writer avoids the responsibility of narrative and plot. But this book has both narrative and plot. Subtly disguised I grant you, but there.
There is this comical heart to the novel that instructs in writing as well as deconstructs.

Sorrentino’s brutal assessment of his artistic society is one of the funniest and well-written satires on American literature. While much of the allusions may seem out-dated, such as references to publishing houses from the 50’s and 60’s, the message is incredibly relevant to any writer in any era. It rewards the reader who is well-read enough to understand many of the jokes and be familiar with some of the authors lambasted within (Norman Mailer is repeatedly poked and prodded), yet it is entertaining to anyone looking for a few shots at the artistic world. Anyone and everyone receives a punch to the teeth in this novel, the reader included, and we all walk away better for it.

Rapacity plus taste is a formidable combination, since it so often passes for intelligence. One pities the artist in a world of such predators, all of whom are deeply engaged in the arts too.

Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,357 reviews11.8k followers
February 22, 2021

"Imaginative Qualities is a comic novel. In many places it may be “gallows humor” but it’s basically a comic novel. I know that I laughed often when I was writing it. I laughed at the situations I put my characters in, I laughed at the comments my narrator made about the characters, I laughed at the various zany lists I made up in order to exemplify aspects of their personalities."

So relates Gilbert Sorrentino, American literary author par excellence, in a discussion of his work with Dalkey Archive Press editor John O'Brien. Mr. Sorrentino goes on to outline what's involved in creating first-rate fiction. Here are two key points:

Fiction Is Its Own Reality - Fiction should not be seen as taking the place of reality. "The idea of the mirror being held up to life is a very remote one as far as my fictional thinking goes." In other words, fiction is not to be confused with a mirror image of our everyday, practical, day-to-day existence. For me, as a reader new to Gilbert Sorrentino, I take the author's words here as a signal to read Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things as a world unto itself, far removed from an exercise in sociology or culture studies.

Fiction Requires Exactitude and Expertise - For Gilbert Sorrentino, writing fiction demands an expert's skill: "The point of art is literally the making of something that is beautiful, the making of something that works, if you will forgive me, in a “machinelike” way." Here I think of the precision of Donald Judd's sculptures or the clean lines in architecture created by Frank Lloyd Wright or Louis Kahn.

"But the best writers excise sentimentality from their work because sentimentality is death to fiction. You can be a weeper in your life, you can cry in the movies as it were, but you can’t cry in your work because none of that is anything but destructive to fiction, which has got to be extremely cold. Let the reader cry if he wants." Tell it like it is, Gilbert! The takeaway message: a fiction writer must maintain a certain cool, craft-like mindset to ensure his or her words and images are the right ones for the story being told.

Recognizing Gilbert Sorrentino's rigorous approach to writing, we can better appreciate his statement: "The idea that writing comes hot off the griddle seems to me to be a tyro’s idea of writing. Writing is very hard work, often absolute drudgery."

Turning to the novel under review, one fact should be made abundantly clear: although the author shares a number of views with the story's narrator, most notably a hatred for superficial lifestyles and mediocre writing and art, Gilbert Sorrentino is NOT the tale's narrator.

To allay any possible confusion on this point, Gilbert Sorrentino posits, "voice is not in any sense the projection of the writer’s voice into the writing. One of the great problems with learning how to write is to discover that in terms of fiction all voices are invented voices." And applied specifically to the narrator of Imaginative Qualities, the author responds to the accusation that his narrator is a wiseguy: "I defend myself against that description because I think of my narrator not as a wiseguy but as a guy wearing a succession of masks and no one ever finds out who he really is."

I highlight the distinction between author and narrator for a definite reason: Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is, above all else, a scathing, scalding, savage attack of the New York art scene of the 1950s and 1960s, most directly focusing on eight artists and writers. But how removed is the narrator from also sharing much of the superficiality? What type of narrator would compose lists of what people like and don't like, what people would be better off being? What's the depth of character when a narrator admits "what a pleasure to make him up (a character), so that I can put him down"?

The eight art scene hipsters are, in fact, superficial, admitting they write mediocre poetry or paint mediocre paintings but say they are living the life of a hip artist as part of the vital art scene; all the while admitting, in turn, their life is a shambles and their relationships a mess but, hey, I'm a published poet, etc. etc.. In effect, circular reasoning as a colossal excuse for creating crap art and living a crap life.

But, damn, is the narrator any better? What an arrogant, condescending priss! Forever attempting to shift the spotlight from himself by an assortment of tricks - footnotes to his ongoing commentary, quoting others' bad poetry, cataloging his characters' perverse sexual activity. Of course, he does periodically remind us this is a fiction, he is the author . . . but still.

Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is the type of multilayered work that will appeal to scholars (indeed there is a Casebook Study in The Review of Contemporary Fiction devoted to the novel) as well as those readers taken by finely constructed, demanding texts such as JR by William Gaddis, On Being Blue by William Gass and Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (Gilbert Sorrentino himself wrote glowing reviews of each). Up for the challenge? If so, go for it - pick up this book.

A big thanks to Goodreads friend MJ Nicholls for putting me on to Gilbert Sorrentino.

American author Gilbert Sorrentino, 1929-2006

"Hemingway, at any event, was responsible for wrecking Guy's gifts - such as they were- for the writing of prose." -- Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,566 followers
March 18, 2014
Consider the following non-review a stellar example of my hyperactive way of reading too damned much between the lines; hence what I think he meant may veer off completely from what the author had actually meant. I do not have the faintest about what the author may have intended and I am probably typing out a bullshit non-review full of cloying platitudes. After all, I may be an even bigger phony than the phony artists who go about living their phony, make-believe lives with their phonier sounding names in this book. (Dick Detective? seriously?)

Somebody had asked me in the comment section what this book is about...and honestly I had been casting about for the right words, ever since, trying to mentally compartmentalize this anti-novel.*

I read this over a period of over a month during which I was either such a busybee or so completely exhausted at the end of the day that I couldn't even read more than 3-4 pages at one go and had to renew my lending period at the library. Hence my memories of reading this are a rough compilation of coherent moments interspersed with perplexing gaps of no valid recollections of any reactions (possibly due to some of the myriad literary references I did not get); some of these moments inspired muffled guffaws, some drew out a few snickers, some pushed my in-built 'cringe' button ever so frequently, while some of the repetitive portions made me yawn.
"Anne may come back to New York and bake me some whole-wheat bread. I'd have to send it out to Henry Miller along with some dripping vulvas so that he could make his favorite literary sandwiches."

This elicited a bizarre cross of a reaction between a chuckle and a wince.

The narrative in this book has taken an extended vacation, hence the pages are filled with satirical writing consisting of seemingly disjointed vignettes, which include snarky commentary on the status of New York's buzzing art sphere of the 60s and the snobbish wannabes that populated it, and copious footnotes through which the author annoyingly interjects ever so often with gems of erudition like -
"I have the feeling I've read this sentence somewhere."

"'I'm afraid I don't know what the author is getting at here. - Zuzu'"**

Instead of characters we have hazy, faceless, featureless silhouettes who seem to have been molded by the same clone-generating machine out of some sci-fi setup specializing in reproducing pretentious and sanctimonious pseudo-artists of 50s and 60s New York who must have secretly rubbed their hands together in glee while using words like 'sanctimonious' and oh look there's Nabokov's Lolita thrown into the eclectic mix as well....(what the hell?)

Nearly all of these artists love to suffer from an all-pervading sense of ennui, write horrid poetry, engage in the most perverse sex with their wives and their mistresses while alternately despising their wives' extramarital activities and being turned on by the same. The wives are all prone to sexual profligacy and exhibit boy-band-groupie behavior extrapolated to the extreme by performing fellatio on anyone and every one at the drop of a hat. There are some extremely explicit and sickening descriptions of sex here which just might give ideas to our beloved representative of 21st century crap erotica creators - Eee. Ell. James. *shudder*
But I'm willing to bet American post-modernists do not form a part of her staple reading diet.

I'm tempted to quote one extraordinarily disgusting scene of sexual deviance inserted here but that might put you off your pizza for a while, so I'll leave you to the bliss of a fruitful exercise of your powers of imagination. (Keep your barf bag on stand by while reading though.)

But before you fault the fabulous Mr Sorrentino for the pornographic descriptions of sex, let us not discount the possibility that this book may be his veiled mockery of the convenient glamour of debauchery that too many artists shamelessly employ while creating their so-called 'art'. *cough* Philip Roth *cough*

When you have fun poked at cliches like .....
"He wasn't writing any more, that is, he was writing, but his poems were very bad. That's because he was happy."

along with authentic reflections on human nature like...
"The pleasure of infidelity lies in feeling bad about it."

with a dash of humor like...
"...if you must fail then fail in terms of your art. Don't abandon it for something that looks like art but which is apple pie to you."

...you can't help but admire Sorrentino's wit and ingenuity and tip your hat in honor of his endearing way of not taking himself or his art seriously.

Besides, you ought to be smitten with a novel meta-fictional novel metafictional anti-novel (or whatever) whose author confesses to his complete inability of controlling his own characters.

*I may be exaggerating my own wordlessness.

**Zuzu Jefferson is a phony, fictional editor or publisher at some publishing house whose name I no longer remember. I had to return the book to the library you see.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,384 followers
July 2, 2019
In the world of art, there are few of those who set the pace and a great many of talentless also-rans. Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is the story about the last category…
All these people are follow-the-dots pictures – all harsh angles that the mind alone can apprehend because we have already seen their natural counterparts.

The nameless protagonist is writing a book in which there are eight bohemian interconnected characters: poets, writers, artists – all of them are fakes and deadbeats. Their poems, stories and objets d’art are uniformly tasteless. Their only achievements are promiscuity, debauchery, drunkenness and immeasurable pretentiousness.
The Devil walking to and fro upon the earth. For what? Cannot the Devil take any shape and possess any flesh he so desires? Incubus or succubus, animal or silent zephyr – they are his province and possession. But in his imagination he constructs the lambent chastity of paradise: which he has lost. Love is no comforter, the poet said. Rather a nail in the skull.

Although the novel is postmodernistic, all its personages belong to the beat generation. So Gilbert Sorrentino managed to create his modern variation of Scènes de la vie de bohème.
All the characters possess a vulgar touch so everything they put their hands on instantly turns into crap…
It was really a beautiful thing to see Dick, Anton, and Lou Henry, tearing the flesh out of a mess of lobsters in Max’s Eat-O-Mat, talking about how their poems had struggled to stay keen and sharp in this mad country. Those three frauds! Up to their elbows in drawn butter. Bunny Lewis once remarked that they looked like the Brontë sisters arguing over a dildo.

Birds of a feather flock together… Don’t they?
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,023 reviews4,068 followers
August 12, 2011
Re-read Aug 10-12 2012

This book is dear to me as a writer, reader, wannabe aesthete lacking the Ivy League education, and someone familiar with laughing in the dark. The book presents itself as an acid-tongued rant from an embittered narrator, commonly mistaken for Sorrentino himself, who performs a serious of misanthropic character assassinations over eight lurid, self-referential chapters.

As a satire, IQOAT is as blunt as it gets, though it’s wrong to view the book as a series of personal attacks on disguised ‘real life’ artists or writers. Every element here, from the ‘wise guy’ narrator; the ‘cardboard’ characters kept on a level of pretend one-dimensionality; the multiple narrative voices; the obsession with lurid affairs and graphic sex, is part an artificial or formal construct embedded in Sorrentino’s labyrinthine structure—a sort of self-contradicting machine, where all opinions and pronouncements are bounced and denounced from a position of seeming chaos. But it’s fun.

This is a re-read from over two years ago (has it been so long?) and the novel is as fresh and surprising as on read one, but now I am able to appreciate the deeply moral and aesthetic concerns at its core: it’s a novel deeply concerned with corrupted values, presenting homespun truths in a most lofty, experimental way. Because not all avant-gardists are nihilist bastards. Currently reading this Casebook Study, more material to follow. (EDIT: Nothing to follow).
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,188 followers
July 26, 2012
”Such the perfections of fiction, as well as that honed cruelty it possesses which makes it useless. Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness.”

Holy hell, what a book! Caustic, caustic! Firey! Lava-esque! Melting that dear earth under our feet, that we need so badly to stand on! Solar flare! But not that innocuous type, far off and pleasing to the star gazer’s eye. The one that knocks out the entire Eastern power grid! Holy hell!

That art is artificial. (It’s the first syllable of the word, for christ’s sake!) That stupid, vulgar people can and will be successful in what is essentially an intelligent person’s game. That money does not follow talent. That the hip is almost never the good, because the hip must necessarily please the legion, and among the legion are divers tasteless and vapid beings. That surrounding the lousy, successful artist are those that actually desire to be in their proximity, to suck their aura, so that they may emit their own dull, puke-green, secondhand aura. That many people confuse “sexual anticipation and activity with all other emotional profundities.” That you need to look elsewhere, in the opposite direction of art, if you’re looking to have your neuroses or your sexual insecurities relieved. That art is a mirror, and if one is an artist one should spend long hours looking into those mirrors that you make and value so highly; the lighting is harsh and unflattering, and the object never ceases in giving or receiving a gaze. That there isn’t one goddamn viewpoint in the world that can’t be contradicted in the next breath. That you need to laugh at these people. That if you asked James Joyce for help he would hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake and send you back out onto the street.

A number of years ago I seriously knew a girl who argued with me that to forgive the worst cases of poor art (to pick gold specks among the feces of any rotten paragraph, any ridiculous song, any amateur painting or performance), if one found oneself sexually attracted to its creator, was all part and parcel of the arts game. That sexual attraction was a function of critical acumen. That I was silly to deny such a blatant fact. To her I wish to make a present of Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino, wrapped carefully in puke-green tissue paper and twined lovingly with a ribbon of amethyst neon, or, if you’d prefer, violet. For she was not wrong.
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,450 followers
September 30, 2014
It's taken me twenty years but I've finally started AND finished a Gilbert Sorrentino novel. I've had trouble fulfilling my readerly duties previously because of my perception of GS as an unrelenting post-modernist (meaning not a sentence can go by without being injected with some "clever" "trick") and a splenetic parodist. Though my intuition recognized him as a master of sorts, these imagined qualities of his were like two Moe Howard pokes in my eyes making reading him impossible.

Well, both imagined qualities turned out to be true, but both Moe pokes were a source of readerly laughter (being generous here, more like chuckle breaths) rather than annoyance (probably because I let the book do the venting for me). It's a book about the 50's 60's New York art scene, but more specifically about the pretenders to said scene, and the unspecified narrator spares no punches on these straw people he's created - straw poets, straw painters, straw novelists, straw sculptors. Nobody in the book is likeable, including the narrator, and everyone is obsessed with porno-type sex; in fact there's the suggestion that all these straw people want is porno-type sex, the arts are just a pretext to this end. So bashing these characters satisfies the splenetic parodist side of Sorrentino, but then there's the po-mo Sorrentino that can't let a sentence go by without letting you know that none of these characters are real people - They're all characters in a novel you dolt! - which gives him license to indulge in all kinds of novelistic hijinks and narrative U-turns. Sometimes it all seemed like so much pyrotechnics, which it was, but it was also so damned entertaining and written with such verve and concision and intelligence that I read it in no time on a kind of readerly high, so I didn't have time to be annoyed.

In the end it was hard to tell who exactly was the target of the narrative, because many names of actual writers and artists were included and very few were spared the spleen, W C Williams and Pound being two that lived up to the writer's standards. But then others like Philip Whalen and de Kooning were sniped at, so who knows who was liked and who wasn't. The point probably wasn't to figure out who was liked and who wasn't, and even that nearly inevitable tendency of the reader to do such a thing might've been a trap set by the author - Just read the book you dolt! None of these people (even the real people) are real!.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
860 reviews2,186 followers
October 5, 2014
Gross Vision in a Slow Dance

This book is hilarious.

As might (not) be hinted by the title, it achieves a special hilaritus without resort to the quiddities of verbosity. The concern here is all with the maintenance of literary thrust, pure and unadorned, in spite of itself. For it is metafictional:

“I’m making this up”.

I'm Not the First Person (to Say That)

Lest the reader be tempted to confuse the first person narrator with the author, let’s call the former Sorritoni.

Henceforth, there will be no allusion to the author, Gilbert Sorrentino, for he does not appear in this work, nor are any characters figments of his imagination, let alone real people, let alone friends.

This whole work and everything in it is a fabrication of Sorritoni. He, assuming it is a he, makes everything up.

The great thing about fiction is not the result, but making it. And a special few writers, by making up their fiction, are able to make it. Though not, it appears, Sorritoni.

A Collection of Antidotes

There are eight chapters or stories in the book. It doesn’t really purport to be a novel. It’s more “a collection of anecdotes”. Or for those who dote on art, antidotes.

There are a number of characters who turn up in each story. Sorritoni doesn’t care enough to differentiate them too strictly. His metafictional hijinks prevent him from painting a completely realistic picture:

“You must believe me, for I have made up these characters, and there are a lot of things I haven’t told you about them.”

So I’ll pretend that the male archetype is an experimental writer/poet called Lou Weed, and the female companion is Vulva Divine. That’s about all you need to know about them, although he says of Lou:

“I can’t make up enough terrible stories about him to make him totally unreal, absolutely fleshless and one-dimensional, lifeless, as my other characters are.”

The Party

Imagine Truman Capote throws a party in late 60’s Manhattan. All the literati turn up. Let’s just name a few. Henry Miller. Norman Mailer. William Gaddis. Thomas Pynchon. Don DeLillo. Erica Jong. Germaine Greer. Gloria Steinem. Sorritoni. Lou Weed.

The truth is that none of the women would be turned on by Sorritoni, let alone Lou Weed. Although the latter is a coterie poet, they would avoid him at all costs. He is a devastating bore, though statistically, he wouldn’t be the only one at the party.

Of course, the big names would start to form their own select little huddles, which would at least allow those not included to wander around the room and find each other.

A Whore There, Me Hearties

A woman gravitates (downwards, of course) to Sorritoni, for the want of an alternative. Needless to say, it’s Vulva Divine.

Vulva thinks that, if Lou can write, so can she. They become part of a secondary writers’ circle that is remote from the big hitters. Lou hopes that Vulva will be wondrously whorish, a (if not the) wanton female. They drift in and out of each other’s lives and beds.

The women in the circle are minor presences, hangers on, "poem freaks”, although so are the males insofar as they relate to the big hitters. (Witness the party.)

The men share the women around, almost like a carousel, for the purposes of blow jobs, party gropes, free-lancing, anal sex and cross-dressing accessories. (Yes, it’s all in the book. It was published in 1971.)

The Evisceration of Lou Weed and Vulva Divine

For the connoisseur of ad hominem evisceration, this is like Pauline Kael or Lillian Hellmann on steroids (or both):

“To be literal is to be bitter. And God knows, your reporter is a bitter man.”

For a while, I was happy enough to laugh along with Sorritoni, then I started to laugh at him, and now I just feel embarrassed and ashamed that I laughed at all.

The vitriolic wit is so unrelenting, after a while it’s like shooting fish in a barrel:

“I might have gone on in this bitter vein for pages…”

Nobody is happy. Unlike the novels of Robert Coover, for instance, there is a total absence of joy and exuberance, apart from the knowing wink exchanged between Sorritoni and any reader who chooses to be an accomplice:

“What a pleasure to make him up, so I can put him down.”

Ex-Friends: Falling Out With Everybody Who Ever Wrote Or Published a Book in America

Sorritoni, like Lou Weed, is bent, Gatsby-like, on making it. He is to meta-fiction what Norman Podhoretz is to Neo-Conservatism.

He is charmless, angry, bitter, impotent and self-destructive. An abject failure.

All the better if, like his heroes, he can explode or implode during the course of the novel:

“Hart Crane, Weldon Keys, Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway. I honor those men because they fell apart in their own work.”

His characters are mere collateral damage.

A Time for Snickers

It’s possible that some literary framework motivates Sorritoni's criticism of his imagined peers. If so, it’s not readily apparent from this work, nor should it be expected to be.

Whatever it purports to be, it doesn’t purport to be a work of non-fictional literary criticism (which other works of his might do).

Nevertheless, as Irving Howe said of Pauline Kael, “[the absence of a secure critical tradition] might allow [him] a pleasing freedom of improvisation, but makes very hard the achievement of reflective depth and delicate judgment.”

Sorritoni would no doubt scoff at the value of depth and judgment.

Here, he judges others with an apparently unprincipled selfishness. What he lauds is what he, himself, writes or likes. Everything else, at least what is written by his contemporaries, is mediocre.

The Infallibility of Sorritoni's Ex Cathedra Pronouncements

Sorritoni comes across as a meta-fictional equivalent of Socialist Realism. Both seemingly declare, ex cathedra, that there is only one tradition worth writing in, and if you don’t agree, you will cop a bullet in the neck. It makes no difference that neither tradition is part of the mainstream.

Sorritoni can't seem to build something without pulling something else down.

His entire career, the tragedy of his career, might be said to consist of “an obsessive need to create bogeymen in order to be able to dispel them, a need to create straw men so that he can knock them over.”

If as an author Sorritoni has been buried, it’s because, like capitalism, he has made his own grave. We can exhume him, but we might find that we, too, get our hands dirty.

Utter Nutter Sadness

To paraphrase Sorritoni, I joke because of the utter sadness of this whole book.

As for the characters, “let’s get these people out of here.”

Sorritoni doesn’t care. It’s metafiction, and he’s not responsible to the reader:

“I made no promise that I would satisfy you.”

This is his genius. And Sorrentino's. Neither can be held to account, and nobody can safely infer or suggest that Sorrentino (Sorritoni?) was totally bitter and twisted for most of the seventies, perhaps even one of the decade's most acid casualties.

The Usefulness of Lists

"This list is a bore to read but was interesting enough to compile, based as it is on a hazy memory and on the imagination…but one of the basic reasons for this list is to allow numbskull reviewers to tell their readers that it is merely an avant-garde convention, employed since Joyce. Further that the use of these lists is a method whereby the writer avoids the responsibility of narrative and plot…Thank you for listening."

The Listfullness of Delicate Judgment

"1. I see that this chapter will be full of my own bile toward this wretched man.

2. God give him the strength to fail with dignity… Let him fail with some grace.

3. Lou was essentially a slob……some poor hack who can’t get a woman…Lou…settled into his mediocrity… If things fall right, you’ll be accepted after a few years, and take your place among the great body of useless grinds who won’t for a minute stop expressing themselves…[Lou] turned out to be the kind of man for which one can have nothing but contempt. His art may … grow stale and stink…I see those lusterless words putrefacting, sinking into a soured mulch that will poison the earth the writers thought to celebrate.

4. [The wonder of an affair with a whore] led Lou to write some [lackluster] poems, better left unwritten.

5. To fuck is to feel: deeply.

6. Nauseating stuff. These dolts keep these enormous notebooks in which they tell us city slickers all about nature…and their lives in Big Sur…And we read this swill.

7. In my next novel, already sketched out for you, my first-person protagonist will be a publisher with a crisis of identity. He will be an uncircumcised Jewish publisher with a harelip who wants to ‘have’ Jewish girls and marry a shikse.

8. When [Vulva] came to realise [Lou] was a rotten poet, she was a rotten poet too. Rotten poets who think of furthering their careers come to think of themselves as: (1) ahead of their time; (2) important minor figures; (3) part and parcel of the ‘exciting’ art world.

9. While [Vulva] was, in effect, a particular kind of modern-day whore, there was none of the whore’s finesse about her; she had little sexual style…She became a whore for him, his whore. Not anybody, not a whore, but his wife, turned whore.

10. His criticism was of that sort that is subtly idolatrous, i.e., it found fault…’this poem is perfectly wrought, but for…[some totally unimportant nitpicking]’

11. Somebody fucked a chicken in one of his plays or something…a star of the underground cinema, a director who was out on bail after his cast had shit on the stage at one of the performances of ‘Eros Depraved’.

12. I’d have to send it out to Henry Miller along with some dripping vulvas…not that Miller dislikes women – what gave you that weird idea?"

The Listfullness of Reflective Depth

"1. [Lou] can almost hear that laughter, as they say in novels.

2. And suddenly, to employ a trope of the novelist, it had grown very late. Or this way: suddenly – it was quite late.

3. The author gave us cardboard figures on which he paints ideas…

4. The quality of movement is slow and refined, even the collector has a patina of dignity, notwithstanding the fact of his dishabille, his awkward posture, and the fixed rapacity of his visage. (A description of a blow job)

5. For the past year or so, he had been a wild sight indeed, his hair standing out around his head in a great salt-and-pepper corona, his beard long and untrimmed.

6. I recollect Lenin…popping in to Moscow once in a while for a little gash.

7.One is fascinated by these lofty mythologies.

8. He expires in his imagination, and is reborn in the poems.

9. I know a woman who married a novelist and divorced him two years later, because he was ‘always writing’.

10. Every publishing house worth its salt has [a ‘hip young editor’]. They’re the ones who find books like ‘V’. Very hip indeed. Very young.

11. …a hip nouveau-riche, a class so modern they call themselves parvenus.

12. The world is what you want it to be…this is necessity in a revolutionary, but disaster in an artist…While you make the revolution, I make the art. The Duty of the Artist Is to Make Art."

The Listlessness of Ennui

“In a sense, my father believed he was immortal, and when he discovered that he was not, I believe that he grew bored. There was, in his final days, an ineffable sense that came off him not of despair, but of ennui.”

Christopher Sorrentino, son

The Listlessness of the Disappointment Artist

"Writers pin their disgust to straw men every day, in this or that review...[Sorritoni was] a writer who forgot to love anything better than his own failure...[He] wed the kill-the-father imperative, the famous anxiety of influence, to the truism that a man is only as big as his enemies. Therefore: if one wished to be the greatest writer of the twentieth century, simply make an enemy of the whole of contemporary literature... to exalt himself, he'd forged the obligation to hate greatness."

Jonathan Mehtel

Yet Another Rejection Letter

My dearest Doc

As you know, I admire your ongoing defence and advocacy of Sorritoni’s fiction. It must be a thankless task. It’s true: he does know how to write. It’s what he writes is the problem for us. The narrator comes across as a pompous, self-righteous, holier-than-thou smart-ass intent on eviscerating everybody in his own peer group, if not American literature in general! Why the fuck would we spend our money putting his wise-guy prose out? I can’t think of a single person I would want to sell it to, nor unfortunately can I think of a single person who would want to buy it, except perhaps yourself. (It continues to amaze me that you two haven’t fallen out, or that you have, but you have reconciled.) Publishing him would be worse than gambling with our money. There’d be zero prospects of getting our money back. Self-publication is the most appropriate avenue for works like this. I would gladly take both of you to lunch at my club, if you prove me wrong. Of course, if Sorritoni ever gets off his revenge, bitterness and self-hatred kick, I’d be happy to consider any new works. It’s a great American Tragedy that he so wastes his talent on this vicious nonsense. He is a master of meta-fiction when he makes the effort.


Profile Image for AC.
1,690 reviews
January 7, 2013
A modern day Juvenal...! Raunchy, sardonic, ironic, irreverent, bitter, unforgiving... detached. Sorrentino knows that nothing you do that matters matters... none of the pain, beauty, craft, honesty...gets you anywhere in the modern world... only the hustle benefits you... and he excoriates any and all who resort to it.

Some brilliant writing..., not for the faint-hearted, though.
Profile Image for Jeff Jackson.
Author 4 books468 followers
March 2, 2013
I'm reading this with a bunch of friends and have already heard complaints about the "torrents of bile" and "oversexed imagination." Plus the inevitable "maybe he's writing this way because he doesn't know how to write a real novel." Yes, "real novel." Which cuts to the quick of Sorrentino's enterprise here, highlighting and then refusing to indulge in all the conventional - read: cliched - tropes of the so-called well made novel. (It's sad how little those tropes have changed since 1971.)

What I found remarkable is how the narrator satirizes and still slyly indulges in novelistic conceits, continually moving in-and-out of his metafiction with consummate ease. He'll be telling you about a character he's just made up, then slip into a story about them at a party, relay that he himself was at that party, describe an overheard conversation, then tell you the conversation is an approximation of similar conversations, remind you the character isn't real, then describe how they spilled their wine on the hostess's new couch. And somehow this doesn't disrupt the flow of the narrative. It's a voice and technique that takes some adjustment, but ultimately I found it intoxicating. Dazzling, really.

The narrator calls this a "book of destruction." It's littered with the glittering not-quite-biographies of failed poets, painters, and novelists from the 1950s and 60s- most of whom would've been better off doing something else. There are eight sections, held together by overlapping characters and themes, plus stitched together by crucial motifs including violet eyes and Annette the maid. One friend compared the structure to early Milan Kundera and I can see it, though the metafiction here is more aggressive and on the surface the structure seems more loose.

The narrator exhibits some empathy for his cardboard creations, who threaten to become ever more real whenever he turns his back on them. I can imagine it's easy to miss this given the caustic tone and relentless lampooning of phonies. (Interestingly, in Markson's author quartet and here, the narrators are so fanatically determined to overturn every false idol that they occasionally look like philistines themselves: Markson's author wanting to burn every Warhol canvas and Sorrentino's narrator calling Nabokov a counterfeit at every turn). But there's real feeling and generosity here, most obviously in the finale, which builds to an unexpected climax of sorts.

So all this leaves me with a question: What's the best Sorrentino to check out from here?
Profile Image for Chris.
3 reviews4 followers
December 19, 2007
This is the kind of book that makes you look in the mirror and see the phony you're always cornered by at parties.

Sorrentino's "handbook", published in 1971, follows a garden-variety hipster clique in 1960's New York city. Despite dated names and references, most of which were unfamiliar to me, the novel is far from a completed action in the simple past. It is instead a caustic satire of the modern "artist" ("modern" artist?) as well as a strikingly accurate portrayal of the vanity and pretension which characterize broad swaths of modern society. If anything, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things has only increased in relevancy, as such misunderstood and abused words as "artist", "poet", "writer" etc. steadily lose their currency. It is not works of art that Sorrentino's marginally abled characters create, but merely the impression of creating them. Bound together by their common interest in perpetuating this illusion, they engage in a comical charade of mutual respect, sophisticated one-upmanship, melodramatic despair and shameless betrayal. Appearance replaces action, and hype is tacitly accepted as talent.

These themes are well known today, but Sorrentino treats them with a harsher dose of acid than anyone I've read before. I imagine very few of us could reach the last page without getting a little burned ourselves.
Profile Image for John.
Author 17 books180 followers
March 26, 2008
Decades after I first read it -- and going on two years, now, after the author's death -- this book remains for me a touchstone. A swirling collage-portrait of a few New York strivers in the arts, only one of them with the talent worth a drink, it combines both a brilliantly cleansing parodist's cynicism and a deeply probing thinker's sympathy. The applicable cliche might be "humanity, warts and all," but this novel-without-narrative goes further than that, ascending to the level of an indispensable portrait for anyone who seeks to understand failure and self-delusion, while also discovering the mercy true art creates for it.
Profile Image for Zadignose.
252 reviews149 followers
August 3, 2016
I didn't write a review for this one because it was too awesome. I'm still too lazy to do it, so...

Book = good.

Profile Image for Andrew Schirmer.
144 reviews62 followers
March 20, 2013
243 pages of bitter invective meta-fictional satire. Absolutely brilliant. Immensely entertaining, and though Sorrentino would spurn such an epithet, accessible as well. You need this book in your life. Sorrentino's voodoo-doll pushpieces FUCK and eat and defecate poetry to great success.

When you live in a town like Seattle...or Portland...or Austin...

...where the art scene is highly insular and back-slapping...
...where arts "coverage" consists of sloppy blowjobs...
...more writers are concerned with "foodie" journalism...
...all the while professing loyalty to "radical" or "progressive" politics...

Reading a book like this is a breath of fresh air.*

*a literary convention

Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,327 followers
Want to read
April 23, 2013
The sins of the world: To locate in a second-hand shop an UNREAD and UNOPENED (spine still stiff) First Edition of Gil's 1971 Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things. The past 42 years this volume could have been NOWHERE ELSE than sleeping in a box at Publisher's Storage because I cannot BELIEVE that a human being could have had it in a library THAT LONG and NOT read it.

Readings of this for my purposes will perhaps likely take precedence over that other over-hyped Sorrentino, Crystal Vision.
Profile Image for sean.
92 reviews39 followers
March 23, 2021
so great. insanely dark, funny, and bitter, but despite the metafiction stuff it's closer to céline than any of the postmodernists. sorrentino's rage comes from a place of despair, but there's no aimless irony – he believes that the world just isn't as good as it could be or should be, and finds the possibility of renewal in destroying everything in his path.
Profile Image for Stephan.
142 reviews11 followers
July 24, 2020
I don't know much of Gilbert Sorrentino's work, so maybe this book is just his curve ball. "Imaginative Qualities" is a cynical satire of artists who think they're artists, namely writers. But he doesn't spare anyone making anything during 50's and 60's village-era. This book is shamelessly vulgar...near pornographic at times. I enjoyed how wonderfully a mess his characters are. And how much he has hipster, "art freaks" pegged. He also doesn't spare himself, writing in a holier-than-thou, fuck-it-or-leave-it tone. But because he cannot stop reminding us that it's all fiction, by actually saying so, or by randomly inserting traits , experiences and scenes, and making the book one long "digression" from the novel itself, his ideas retain less credit as observations and tend to feel more like manipulation.
Profile Image for Adam.
407 reviews139 followers
September 1, 2018
So acidulous you may want to wear gloves, so pithy just put your notes away before you pull a Pierre Menard.
Profile Image for Lee Foust.
Author 7 books152 followers
October 18, 2020
This, very much like the last satirical novel I just finished reading (Four Wogs by Alexander Theroux) is both hysterical, fabulously written, but rather troubling in its meanness and use of sexist and racist language--all in the name of honesty and humor, mind you, not in out-and-out sexism or racism, if you make the distinction. I picked up both of these humorous but troubling gems at the local thrift store as I'm sojourning in the time of Covid-19 in San Francisco, far away from my personal library, and using the opportunity to read some authors I've seen praised here on Goodreads and have been meaning to read but hadn't yet found a second-hand copy I could afford of one of their books. (Oh, the woes of the penny-pinching academic bohemian author.)

Anywho, Sorrentino (a fellow Boho academic, although considerably more successful at both things than I--wrote more books, worked for better universities) writes wonderfully in the meta-fictional/PoMo vein here and had me laughing out loud all over the place with his rag-tag sketches of sketchy, bad poets and artists of the 1960s merely opting for the NYC Boho lifestyle despite having no poetic or artistic talent. The form of the anti-novel (by its own claim) works perfectly here, the constant play between truth claims and claims that it's all cardboard, made up, and insubstantial writing, the presence of the moody author, and his grouchy meanness--which is, by turns, really very funny and then quite sad. I mean, in the end, this type of satire is just an act of artistic hubris, a shitting on one's peers, picking on them for not being as great a writer as you are. So I loved it, but it ultimately made me sad that Sorrentino hadn't used the form to say something more important. Boho poseurs will always just be poseurs, or I guess nowadays we call them hipsters--would you rather they be young Republicans? I thought not. Just ignore them.
Profile Image for Amy.
917 reviews55 followers
April 10, 2011
I really liked this book and how hipsters of the '50s basically fall into the same categories as hipsters today. Posers, fuck-ups, sell-outs, sluts, etc. It's easy to see myself and friends echoed in these obviously exaggerated character portraits. While, this book is clever and undoubtedly funny, I found myself wishing there was less breaking of the 4th wall.
Profile Image for Daniel Grenier.
Author 9 books67 followers
February 5, 2018
Sorrentino appartient à cette bande de larrons qui sont partis en guerre contre le « roman », ses « mensonges » et ses « conventions bourgeoises », quelque au milieu du vingtième siècle. Imaginative Qualities est donc un « anti-roman », avec de faux personnages et de fausses situations, qui se veut une critique acerbe du milieu littéraire américain et des prétentions artistiques des unes et des autres. C’est drôle pendant cinquante pages, c’est grinçant pendant soixante-dix, c’est redondant à partir de cent. À force de répéter sans cesse que tout ça n’est que pure invention, que ce poète ou cette romancière n’existent pas, que ce sont des constructions mentales, on finit par enfoncer le clou un peu trop profond.
Profile Image for Graham P.
207 reviews20 followers
April 6, 2017
'Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things' has the most unreliable of unreliable narrators. It's like listening to a mad poet fueled on gossip and hatred for his fellow peers, a stick of dynamite in one hand, and a scalpel in the other. Gilbert Sorrentino is on fire here, as many miles over the speed limit as a Lenny Bruce tirade. The prose here soars with a wonderful hatred and a bittersweet vitriol. And first and foremost, this book is fucking hilarious. The text itself is made up of short analyses of poets and painters living in NYC 1950s-1960s, all viciously offered to the page like a sacrificial rant using gasoline instead of ink. New York City has always been a magnet to the artist, and many of the artists here are vapid, pretentious, and of middling talent - but Sorrentino takes it to a whole new level. Here he paints them as louts, perverts, drunks, addicts, fakes, oh, and did I say perverts (the amount of sex in this book bursts at the seams - how many blow jobs, candles up arses, and episodes of sorrowful masturbation can one book have?). Follow Guy Lewis, nympho poet and angry drunk. Have a sad drink with Lou Henry, an in-the-closet poet whose life is a doormat. Get cozy with his philandering wife, Sheila Henry; or Bunny Lewis, a tragic lush. Watch talented poet, Leo Kaufman, vomit on the rug after seeing his wife, Anne, go into the broom closet with a jazz musician. Or watch in dismay as the insatiable grunt, Anton Harley, has sex with a pizza. There is nothing sacred in this book. At one point, the narrator just admits it: "I'm cutting my throat here, destroying whatever chance this book has to get a 'favorable review.'"

A sinister gem with profound glimpses into the melancholy - the ending is a marvel of light and color.

One of my favorites:

"It is a high school dance and he is there in the smell of must from his rented dinner jacket. Then home alone, drunk, puke down the lapels, through the blank streets. Through the Hopper canvas. I have a vision of him at sixty. It is fearful and excruciatingly sad. It's as if he had one chance and didn't take it, didn't even know of it: a falling star while he was making a model airplane in the attic."
Profile Image for Dave H.
254 reviews
July 16, 2012
Not finished. I thought I lost this book somewhere, hopefully at the pool because we’ve never recovered anything left behind at the pool. But no, it wasn’t lost there and I found it somewhere else. I had been wanting to lose it so that I wouldn’t be burdened with reading it all the way to the end. You can never lose things when you really need to lose them.

It starts out well enough, funny but it’s a mean funny, being mean to people and how funny that can be if you are properly mean; the mean-funny humor slipped into boring after a couple of chapters. It also is “metafiction” and supposedly avant garde and that would be great if done well. I suppose that was all well enough for the 1970s, reminded somewhat of other more fun and less tedious authors from that period. There are a few passages I quite liked but not enough to go on suffering.
Profile Image for Aiden Heavilin.
Author 1 book70 followers
December 27, 2017
Gilbert Sorrentino's style is similar to those collections of news-clippings, photographs, and journal entries held together by spider-web bungee cords that you see in spy movies, as the hero gathers information on the secret society. He throws vignettes, lists, jokes, and ideas at you in rapid-fire fashion, and it is deliriously enjoyable to read. However the pleasure of his rapid style here might distract from the fact that the subject matter essentially involves a bunch of over-dramatic artists falling in and out of love with each other. Nevertheless, I found the characters to be sympathetic, albeit all very similar to each other, and the virtuoso style was always a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Simon Hollway.
154 reviews9 followers
October 13, 2015
Bowing out at the halfway mark on this. Crashing disappointment. The blurb reads, 'ruthless and timeless attack on the New York art world of the 1950s and 60s.' I had mistakenly imagined high society gaffes, gauche behaviour in art galleries, pretentious frauds defrauded by Machiavellian artists and Dorothy Parker types delivering withering put-downs to ignorant faux-art hounds. Instead it read more like Middle American suburbia and a second-rate Ivy League knockabout. The art world here predominantly consists of failed poets and magazine editors. Above all else, it was true to its summary, being 'American'. I know next to nothing about American literature (to my detriment). I also know next to nothing about America in the 50s or 60s. I now nothing about their beer, their baseball, their culture, that specific New York ethnic simulacrum, their TV shows, their 50s celebrities, their newspapers, their politics etc etc. This was a major disadvantage. I thought this would be a marvellous, high camp and arch romp. Its tone was relentlessly bitter.

Sorrentino constantly toys with the reader, refusing to write an actual novel, commenting on his characters, commenting on himself commenting on his characters, signposting an upcoming mega-phrase dashed off that will brilliantly summarise an entire character before reverting to the narrator's navel-gazing. Nabakov does this without the fanfare, without the commentary at the flick of the wrist.

Above all, I suppose, I have never really mixed with the 'arts' crowd. All my encounters have been with earnest, jobbing creatives, who write or paint or critique to pay the bills; utterly unprecious about their work but secretly (that's secretly) proud. So, obviously, a snide, continually sneering, yet in many places exquisitely subtle, running battle taking potshots at the pretentions of artistic pretenders wouldn't really resonate with me.

A jaunty, perhaps too tricksy writing style whose subtle barbs weren't the barrelfull of laughs I was expecting. I went into this one all wrong. If you're not au courant with your Pynchons, Gaddii, Hemingways, 50s film stars and New York Jewish sensibilities then this book might not be as 'timeless' as the critics suggest. If the motif of 'modern America' is either a turnoff or an alien concept, then beware that Sorrentino doesn't transcend it.
Profile Image for Cindy.
90 reviews14 followers
January 6, 2014
Some truly hilarious sections but also a lot of I'm miserable, everyone I know is miserable and everything is fake - intermixed with lots of impotence. I'll take Patti Smith's version of New York artists in tbe 60's.
208 reviews7 followers
September 14, 2011
Another 3.5er.

Why not higher? This is a pretty brilliant, avant-garde, self aware book. That is, in the long run, it's biggest pro and it's biggest con.

On the plus side, I've never read anything like it, and don't expect to read much similar. It is a scathing critique of the non-artist in the artist's world... the hack in it for the money... the groupie feigning culture to be a part of a circle. The pretension as well as the obliviousness within the circle. It's a novel aware of the artifice of the novel, creating the characters as the book is written, giving us sketches of fake people (as fake as the real so-called artists they're based on?) as their on-the-spot backstories become the story itself. It crafts horrible poetry as well as anyone can unintentionally. It may even be required reading for all aspiring artists, especially writers. The people who put themselves into their work only to be second best to the fakes. It's a bitter, angry rant of a book. It's provocative in many ways. There's an odd tenderness, too... as the narrator creates every shallow, loathsome character, we still feel a shred of sympathy for the loveless marriage, the sad life, the meaningless mooch. As vilified as these shadows of stereotypes are (and indeed, often these characters are described in the terms of who they are being immaterial, because we all know these people, whether they're named Dick Detective or Joe Smith), they're still crafted with the care of an artist, and just as we have friends and acquaintances who we care about yet drive us up a wall, that's how we end up feeling about many of these characters.

However, all these obfuscations also make this an incredibly dense, difficult read. There are inconsistencies, digressions, flows of information pouring out too fast to catch. We're given a rapidfire set of vignettes, and no shortage of new personae to need to learn every last anecdote about, but we're not given a solid plot. The author (or narrator-as-author) inserts himself frequently. It's difficult. It's not going to be a "beach read." It needs your attention. And while that is not a bad thing (not at all), it does cut against the joy of the content. You can love a difficult text, and I don't know if this was indeed love.
Profile Image for Julian.
80 reviews2 followers
December 27, 2017
seeing all the high ratings makes me think i mightve missed something about this one, but it was a lot of rambling and all the good jokes were made in the first 100 pages.
in any case it's no Woodcutters
Profile Image for Nimitha.
146 reviews13 followers
November 16, 2019
A brilliant read, hilarious and revolting in equal measures. It's not an easy read what with the narrator interrupting the storytelling deliberately and the characters forming infidelities in every possible permutation and combination. One moment I was laughing out loud reading narrator's words about Anton's voracious appetite and the next I was disgusted with the crass sexual scenes. This is not a book I loved reading but it is the first book I loathed and liked at the same time!
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