The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Sunday Salon: a break with Sorrentino

Posted on: November 4, 2007

Stephen King sent me straight to Sorrentino for help. I tried to get back the Goldberg: Variations but it wasn’t working. A good shot of Gilbert Sorrentino’s protagonist, the hilariously awful Anthony Lamont, is just what I needed to provide a quick recovery.

It turns out that there are a few similarities between Mulligan Stew and The People of Paper, the biggest being that both have writers who have characters in their stories-in-progress who have lives of their own and try to rebel against their creators in different ways. (Sadly, I’ve seen a glimmer of the “self-indulgence” that A.V. Club reviewer mentioned in reference to Plascencia’s novel. I tend to dislike books in which the author makes an appearance and I’m not sure whether Plascencia has justified the move to me yet. But I still think well of everything else so we’ll see.)

I want to post another excerpt from Sorrentino’s novel because a recent bit seemed too good to keep to myself. You’re lucky enough to get a glimpse into Anthony Lamont’s novel-in-progress, which aspires to be some kind of literary Dashiell Hammett imitation. Here the unreliable narrator, Martin Halpin, of the story is fantasising about the virgin/whore Daisy who was married but cheating with Halpin’s friend and business partner, Ned (who he maybe murdered, but isn’t sure because he can’t remember!).

Forgetting for a moment, forgetting — as if I could forget! — to set down here for my delight and the envy of posterity that they did never know her, I hasten to amend this oversight, I mean, the magic that her voice worked upon my poor, my yearning soul. Have you ever heard mission bells ringing? What music doth the bard’s thousand twangling instruments convey to the imagination? Or the yingle yingle of a pair of fine-wrought Swedish campanellas? None of them at best could ever match the thrilling tenor of this lady’s sweet vibrato, the trim sophistication of her yells. O husky huffs and puffs! In gardens soft and dark as midnight-blue velour, I place her avocado ones, her tonsils tremulous. Those decibels I fleshed in desirous tossing on my lonely cot set my brain to singing and all my skin to ache. To hear the trombone of her sighs, the oboe of her muttering! I wish that I might be a pair of ears. Her coughs were violin sonatas and love words drifting on her breath the song of Solomon Viola. When she laughed my mind was filled with images of silken legs and thighs close-hugged by lace-edged garters. And her singing was a brace of shining heels. Thus did I vex myself, her voice so protean, invading my imagination. Her creamy sighs chinchilla, her chats raw silk — in her mouth the dullest argot turned pistachio and peach and French vanilla. A gelati, a spumoni, a cannoli, a tortoni! In my dreams I sucked the sweetness of her tongue. I woke to the all alone blues, that empty bed, big eight-wheeler rollin’ down the track, far hoot of whistle, vague sounds or memories of sounds, softly slipping out the window. A moment of self-abuse and I could face my coffee, hoping that the percolator’s pops would not throw up to me the maddening delight of hearing Daisy belching quietly. There was no noise that she could make, real or imagined, too crude for sly List’nin’ Tom. Brp! Frt! Hlp! Znp! Sht! Wrf! Bch! Onf! Upf! I reveled in them all! Tell me then, I whisper to the walls, why this pus-bitter fall of solitude? I want her close to me forever, one enormous never-ending female noise. Oh joys! Toys for the lonely eardrum. So I mumbled to intolerable privacy.

From Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino

Sometimes I think Lamont’s to pull a “modernist style” on the reader, other times I’m concerned for his health.

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