Gilbert Sorrentino
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

“There’s a girl in Bensonhurst who barks when you fuck her” notes a character in GILBERT SORRENTINO’s (1929-2006) second novel, Steelwork (1970). The time is 1940. The chapter, a list, is titled ‘Sexology: 100 Facts.’ The place is Sorrentino’s native Brooklyn, to where the ceaselessly inventive author’s memory always returns. Sorrentino’s earliest notoriety came as a poet and editor of the Flatbush-based “little magazine” Neon (1956-60), one profoundly affected by jazz, William Carlos Williams, and myriad Black Mountain types, from Charles Olson onward. Jonathan Williams published Sorrentino’s poetry; Creeley is the driver in Sorrentino’s Kerouac-influenced road novel, The Sky Changes (1966); etc. While he never ceased writing verse — some of which is superb (The Orangery, “Jersey City Palms”), Sorrentino flourished as a novelist, creating America’s greatest body of post-war comic fiction this side of Thomas Pynchon. Among the highlights: Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things (1971), a Wyndham Lewis-like blast against intellectual fraud; the Joycean tour-de-force Mulligan Stew (1975); Mother’s Day favorite Red The Fiend (1999) and Little Casino (2003), whose footnotes are an English professor’s revenge for love. If Sorrentino rarely had the number of readers he deserved, it’s fortunate his most difficult work — three novels (1985-1989) now collected as Pack of Lies — found their brilliant expositor in University of Texas philosophy professor, Louis Mackey. Still, its there for all to discover: “Coarse sexuality. Data and cynical commentary. Nervous and demotic language. Jokes!”

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Russell T. Davies and Kate Pierson.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist generation (1924-33).

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Historian, journalist, and poet Brian Berger is coeditor of New York Calling. He has written for many publications, a few of which even still exist.