“Gold Fools” by Sorrentino

Sorrentino, Gilbert. Gold Fools. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2001.

This novel is funny, laugh out loud on the train funny.

I put off reading this book for a number of years, as the constraint in effect seems like it would be extremely irritating. Gilbert Sorrentino has written Gold Fools in questions. Every single sentence is in the interrogative mode. Not only that but the novel is a parody of a boys’ adventure novel. To me, that is not a recipe for an enjoyable read, but in the hands of Sorrentino it works admirably well.

The story, such as it can be distilled down, is about three boys in the old west who go off with two older guys on a search for a gold mine. It’s a rather cliched scenario with which Sorrentino performs a transformation through the use of the constraint.

The use of constant questions puts everthing into question in the story. Some questions are implicitly answered for the reader so as to move the story along, but most remain in suspension. The constant unanswered questions parody the cliffhanger ending of old serials but go so far as to negate the suspense completely. Reading the novel is quite odd in this way, further complicated by Sorrentino’s other tactic, digression.

The questions spiral out from simple ones about an aspect of the events in the story on through various digressions of linguistic, semantic, or just plain non sequitur connection. Every manner of question is used from the obvious to the unanswerable, the lengthy rambling to the single word. The style is playful like a little child who asks one question after another drawing new material from each answer, except Sorrentino draws from the questions themselves and brings into the mix a wide variety of allusions to literature, history, and culture, as well as numerous anachronisms and parodies of the western. Wordplay plays a frequent part in the novel as does overt and covert references to homo and hetero eroticism (perhaps unavoidable in a western parody with rather naive teenage boys as protagonists).

It is hard to pull out quotes from the novel to offer as an example as the meaning grows from the sequence and build up of the text. Though, thanks to Google’s experimental print project an excerpt from early on in the book is available online.

Sorrentino’s skill as a writer makes this a lively and amusing novel. My main complaint with it is I felt it went on a little too long. Even amusing parody gets old after a while. That said, the novel is worth reading at least for the way the work is put together and the humor brought to it.

I must also make comment on the book itself. Green Integer puts together beautiful, simple little books of about five by seven inches (smaller even than the French “poche” size) that fit well in the hand and pocket. The design is simple white with a black and white image of the author and some text, very clean, and well branded so to be recognizable.

If the reader is unfamiliar with Sorrentino (one the great but underread contemporary American authors) I’d suggest looking into his short novel Aberration of Starlight or for the more ambitious his long Mulligan Stew.