I suppose I should be more circumspect than I am about my own ignorance. For instance, it probably doesn’t sound all that sophisticated to admit that I snatched a lovely copy of Gilbert Sorrentino’s trilogy, Pack of Lies, off the remainder shelf only because 1) I was aware Sorrentino was a Big, Important Name; and 2) the book is put out by Dalkey Archive, which must mean I’m supposed to be reading it for my own enculturation and cocktail-party bragging rights. I will also freely admit to the fact that, two-thirds of the way in, I often have no idea whether I’m missing something significant, whether my instinctual joy in this carefully designed mess is legitimate, or whether Sorrentino has pulled one over on a lot of literati eager to expound upon all the hues and shades of brilliance in his experiment.
There’s also probably some sense in refraining, at least before the more methodological among us, from admitting that my enjoyment of this tome is mostly grounded in sheer good feeling. Of course, that doesn’t exclude admiration of Sorrentino’s deadpan analyses of certain clichéd literary practices. I wish I could cite the entire section from which the following comes; instead, I’ll taunt you with an exemplary snippet:
Blow, an interesting, depressed person with an awareness of life in our time… packs up his personal, annotated copies of [some non-existent titles], and leaves to save a civilization worth saving from the barbaric hordes. Many of his poems are about the headstrong virility of youth and the slow, dark wisdom of age.
For a change.*
Sorrentino also manages to maintain superb variations on weird image-threads throughout the book. Right when you think you’ve forgotten, say, about lighthouses being brought in as mood descriptors, up pops a new inflection of that theme, as in “Buddy’s smile beamed like a demented lighthouse.”** If you don’t approve of the notion of inanimate objects expressing emotion, you might not share in my love of what the author’s doing here. I’ve never seen a demented lighthouse– but I get it, I totally, lovingly get it.
Then again, I’ll make a final admission about my amateurish approach to Pack of Lies: plowing through at least a couple hundred of its complex pages while flitting through eight time zones in an austere economy seat probably contributed nothing to understanding this thing “correctly.” Diving into a work that should be confronted with all one’s mental acuity, there I was grooving on this stuff through the lens of sleep deprivation and a week’s worth of inept stuttering in a language not my own. But in the end, if anything, whether the work itself or the way you read it, can make you forget about your numb derrière and the oaf in front of you who’s reclined his seat into your face– well, whatever’s going on, I’ll call that a win.
* Gilbert Sorrentino, Pack of Lies (Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1997), 306.
** ibid., 387.