One of the more accomplished of a certain style of post-modern writing whose influence is still felt, even if those who share its tricks are unaware of Sorrentino’s existence, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things starts in a stronger place than where it ends, but the ride to that end is so delightful in its bitchiness that its hard to hold what feels like a tossed off conclusion against it. It doesn’t hurt that the author never stops reminding you of how artificial the construct of fiction can be, stopping in the middle of the narrative to address that the characters he’s created aren’t real or interesting, so he’s going to blind one of them, and isn’t that kind of overdoing it, anyway?
It’s that bitchiness that keeps the pages turning, really. Sorrentino has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of contemptuous remarks to deliver about the people that surrounded “him” in the late 50’s, and they’re never repetitive and rarely unfunny. He’s mean to people who probably deserve it, both because they’re ridiculous and because they’re probably doing the same to him. Hungrily sexual—this is a book with a lot of ass eating—Sorrentino’s “friends” can’t keep their hands off each other, and their drunk fucking makes for plenty of over-the-top drama. It takes a good couple of pages to catch up with what Sorrentino is doing with his writing—lists and rejoinders, author as narrator as author speaking directly to reader, and it’ll certainly help to have your Joyce references up to date—but the work is worth it in the end, if only so that you can wash off some more of the stink that comes from believing in the intellectual salons of the past.
"I’ve beat the system, he thought. and then thought, no. This was simply a sign that he’d already stopped being human and wasn’t planning on coming back."
A gory detective novel where the protagonist spends the whole book trying as hard as he can not to take the case (and ends up solving it purely on accident before the halfway point), Last Days is the book that cemented my affection for the writer to such a degree that I plan to parcel out what else of his work remains slowly, so that hopes of new Evenson always dance forever in the horizon. There’s a delightful pointlessness to Last Days—its a book that is almost surly in its rejection of easy acceptance being far too violent for the literary fiction crowd and way too weird for the murder mystery club. Its reminiscence of things is a mirage, something that fades when you actually try to shelve it alongside Ben Wheatley’s Kill List or the works of Raymond Chandler. It’s vague acknowledgement of the nastier, dustier, bloodier splinters of the Bible are where its furious pace most often lets up; it’s those sentences, Christian sentences, when Evenson is most willing to allow a pregnancy of attention. What you see is invariably unpleasant, but hey: so is the Bible, right?
A ninety page piece of perfection, The Literary Conference reads less like a novella and more like the transcript of a really great joke that just happens to be a bit longer than most jokes. While there’s definite similarities in terms of tone to other pieces of writing—seasonal moments in Camus, the way Thomas Mann describes clothes—Aira is the real deal, a singular, demanding voice. Translating the work must be pure alchemy, Aira’s sentences feel so dependent on another. (I thought about pulling one in for quotation, but it’s impossible to find one that could feel comfortable removing from those that surround it—it would just be cruel.) A newly rich mad scientist goes to a literary conference: enjoy!
-Tucker Stone, 2016