4.5 to 5 stars—for one of those interesting experiments in form, a narrative in parts and pieces, a kaleidoscope story—turn it slightly and it becomes something else, a different picture, some variation on what’s preceded and a variation of what will come.
This is one of those novels actually done justice by the summary of its GR title page. Four people staying in a summer boardinghouse, most on a vacation from the city, each with his or her own story, although overlapping with the stories of the other guests.
But, Sorrentino begins the novel with a deception (what fiction isn’t a deception?), that’s clever and misleading. What begins with the story of a child, a child of divorced parents who resents his absent father and invests his paternal need in another guest, sets the reader up for a sentimental story that ultimately isn’t what’s presented. The child, someone who’s hard not to sympathize with, lulls the reader into a story that’s pain-filled, bigotry-filled, hate-filled, lust-filled, pretty much filled with the raw emotions of an unfortunate cast which readers really wouldn’t want to know.
Four sections of the novel, divided into pieces of straightforward narrative from each of the four primary characters’ perspectives, stream of consciousness mosaics, letters from that person to characters incidental or integral, Question and Answer sections posing the sorts of questions the novelist must have kept in mind while writing and which attentive readers ask themselves as they read.
Reminiscent, in a formal way, of Atonement or Beloved, where revisiting scenes with more information further informs the story. An interesting aspect to the story, for me, is that one ends up knowing the main characters the way one knows people one meets on vacations where you’re exposed to other vacationers in closed, cramped quarters, learning about them partially, as they want you to see them and as others who know them better may reveal them, ultimately willing to be rid of them at the first opportunity. Not for everyone, probably, but definitely one for me.