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The Moon in Its Flight.

Gilbert Sorrentino. The Moon in Its Flight. Coffee House, 2004. 266 pp. Paper: $16.00.

For years I've felt that the title piece of this collection is among the ten best stories in the history of American literature; its availability in book form--along with the other nineteen stories collected--is long overdue. Here, all the qualities that make Gilbert Sorrentino's writing unique are at work: his intelligence, his profoundly dark humor, the unerring precision of his language, his control over narrative, and the grace with which he obliterates social and literary conventions. Along with the title piece, the majority of these stories are strongly narrative, although they probably have more in common with marionette theater than with most American short fiction. The characters resemble wooden puppets whose possibilities for movement and/or choice are confined within their small worlds to the predictable words and gestures available to their narrators. These narrators characteristically step into the story to comment--with a mixture of sarcasm and apology--on their own embarrassment at having to resort to such tired and predictable plots, such vapid emotional baggage, and dialogue and descriptions steeped in literary cliche. In this fictional world, life is indeed banal stuff, but the fault--the narrator points out--is not his, nor, of course, the characters'; it is due to the shabby material the narrator/creator has to work with--a situation that, in Sorrentino's hands, is typically hilarious. That this situation is at the same time inescapably desperate owes to the fact that the source of all this "shabby material" is nothing other than the reality we live in. These stories, then, represent a high point in American metafiction, the point at which to speak of narrative self-referentiality as "clever" is to be utterly (perhaps blissfully) ignorant about life. In addition to the narrative pieces, this collection includes a number of collage-type works that show the influence visual art has had on Sorrentino's writing (e.g., one piece takes its name from Cornell's "Allegory of Innocence"). Remarkable both for the precision of their "random" assemblage and the (somewhat contradictory) insinuation into the work's material of subtly narrative lines, these pieces are as brilliant and complete as the rest of Sorrentino's short fiction.
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Author:Riker, Martin
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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