You might call this novel a hodgepodge that works. Christopher Sorrentino is a skilled writer and a smart writer, who wants us to really know our characters as we watch them stumble into each other, and into their own way, and as they become part of the mystery they seek to unravel.
A formerly successful novelist, way behind on the delivery of his next manuscript, escapes the mess of his marriage, and a scandalous affair, by leaving Brooklyn for a quiet Michigan town near the locale of fondly remembered family holidays. There he wanders into the library for the regular storytelling of a Native American who delights listeners with indigenous fables.
The storyteller begins the novel so you might imagine he features prominently, as he does, and you might also imagine there are fable-like lessons to be learned, which there may be. Perhaps the greater lesson is to question everything, and accept nothing as it seems.
Enter a reservation expat, now a Chicago journalist, who has received a tip that the storyteller may not be who he pretends to be, and who may be the link to a gambling casino theft.
Prepare to read a lot of pages before a crime is revealed, and it’s a winner, but it’s less important than the personal misdemeanors of each of these characters.
Of course the novelist and the journalist are drawn to each other. Of course an elegant wise guy takes note of the journalists exploration and intercedes. And, unbeknownst to us, the reservation police also take note. Add one angry husband, a few angry exes, a lot meaningless sex and a crazy funny literary agent on the rampage, and you have one helluva read.
Also, add in lovely parenthetical observations from the novelist. Like this one. Coetzee writes of telling a story selectively, omitting all of the complicated and unsettling truths; “the story unrolls without shadows,” as he puts it. On reflection, it occurs to me that the story without shadows is a cartoon, no more or less.
I couldn’t put it down. I laughed, I cringed. I pondered why people forget what they’ve learned. I thought about how deeply failure and grief impact the psyche. I also wondered whether any of these characters would come out in a better place.
Lest you fear you won’t like these folks, and I hear often how readers reject books with characters they cannot relate to, remember why you read fiction – to examine, from a safe distance, unique experiences and other journeys. Hopefully to learn from their challenges and to add to your own store of wisdom. Or, just for the love of great language.
The present was all anxiety, the future was unthinkably imminent pain, and now the past became salient in its irretrievability.
Sorrentino has written a compelling novel of cultural conflict and personal compulsions.
It’s a slice of modern America, without cliché or condescension, and it’s a winner.
Available at Laguna Beach Books in hardcover and for e-readers.