Sound on Sound

Christopher Sorrentino, Author
Christopher Sorrentino, Author Dalkey Archive Press $19.95 (210p) ISBN 978-1-56478-073-7
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In this ambitious first novel, which is structured as a multilayered recording session, the concept behind the plot is flawed, but the story is flawlessly executed. Hi-Fi is a not-yet-famous rock band playing a fateful gig at a seedy New York bar called Cheaters on the night of Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981. From the safety of the '90s, hack writer and Hi-Fi aficionado Paul Marzio attempts to puzzle out the events of that evening, after which Hi-Fi rose to a possibly tainted prominence. The first iteration of ``what happened'' is given without dialogue or judicious description, as if it were the rhythm track. The conceit is nice, but the actual execution of it makes the first 25 pages of the book, which read like a screenplay synopsis, drab and uninteresting. Luckily, the section is followed by a series ``overdubs,'' which include: a list of items numbered like exhibits at a trial; a ``solo'' by our author, Paul; and the conflicting accounts of various Hi-Fi hangers-on and former girlfriends, who attended Cheaters that evening. In the final section, Marzio conducts interviews with the now-famous bandmembers, but nothing produces a clear solution to the narrative puzzle. Sorrentino gets away with a lot through sheer virtuosity. After the slow first layer, he completes the formal exercise he's set for himself with great vigor, and his writing, when he paints a scene, is funny, perceptive and dead-on the satirical mark. (May)
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