More sad news: Gilbert Sorrentino has died, aged 77.
There are few details: he had been diagnosed with cancer late last summer and he died on Thursday, May 18th, at a hospital in New York. More information can be gathered from the Center for Book Culture press release and there is also Dalkey's biography.
He was the most important novelist of his generation, inventing and reinventing styles and forms with each new book. A comic genius who was also able to write what is perhaps the bleakest novel in American fiction, The Sky Changes (1966) — a novel about divorce in America, and his first—Sorrentino set himself challenges with each new book, generally indifferent to how critics would react.
The range of his work and his absolute dedication to inventing and exploring character are unequalled by any of his contemporaries. Although oftentimes facilely grouped with such writers as Donald Barthelme, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, John Barth, and John Hawkes, Sorrentino was, unlike these writers, never embraced by academics and was usually overlooked by the critics. His singular aesthetic and his lifelong tendency to criticize the very authors who could have helped his career placed him outside both the mainstream and the fashionably avant-garde.
Undoubtedly one of the finest voices of his generation, Sorrentino was sadly underrated. However, his winning the 2005 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award did bring his name to the attention of new readers (the bloggers have helped too: good stuff here from MadInkBeard and remembrances from Dan and Richard) and his star did seem to be waxing again. The New York Times had said he was “like a reckless heir to Borges, Barthelme and Groucho Marx, [who] co-opts the language of critical discourse to subvert his audience’s preconceptions and, in so doing, redraws the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ art”.