Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gilbert Sorrentino was among the literary avant-garde of the 1960’s and 1970’s, along with other writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, John Barth, William Gass, and LeRoi Jones. They shared an interest in the power of words and their multiple technical possibilities, a theme running throughout Sorrentino’s work. This group is perhaps best known for attacking the conventions of the traditional novel such as linear plot lines, “real” characters, and language subordinated to the story. They, and especially Sorrentino, believed that form is more important than content and even determines content.

The Sky Changes (1966) and Steelwork (1970), Sorrentino’s first two novels, ignore time sequence and scramble the past, present, and future. His next novel, The Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things (1971), satirizes the New York art world of the 1960’s, a world of which he was a part. Each chapter is devoted to one of eight characters, and the novel proceeds by digression, anecdote, asides, and lists. This was followed by Splendide-Hotel (1973), a short book of twenty-six sections, each one based on a letter of the alphabet. Mulligan Stew, considered Sorrentino’s masterpiece, was published to rave reviews, and he has continued to dazzle his public with novels that are experimental in different ways. An artist of great seriousness and ability, Sorrentino has given his readers new ways to think about language and literature.