Trance Paperback – 18 Apr 2006
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"Sorrentino's vision here is kaleidoscopic, eliding fluidly from individual to individual, taking on a wide array of points of view." --David L. Ulin, Newsday
"Trance is a work of startling insight, marvelously and masterfully evoking the grim stuff of true American nightmares." --Colson Whitehead, author of John Henry Days
"This sprawling work is so ambitious and irreverent that it doesn't fit easily into any genre. . . . Full of descriptions sublime in their precision . . . Trance is a pleasure to read--delightful and often funny." --Los Angeles Times
"Sorrentino has something of Don DeLillo's ear for American white noise--for the hiss and crackle that fills the country's derelict spaces." --The New York Times Book Review
"[Sorrentino] remains a virtuoso, and much of the success of this book is due to his writing skill. . . . [He] is an insightful, sensitive writer who makes you believe you're seeing what he's describing." --Harvey Pekar, The Baltimore Sun
"Big and ambitious . . . It's method and scope are breathtaking." --Salon.com
"Trance doggedly dismantles the pedestal of celebrity and myth." --The Village Voice
About the Author
Christopher Sorrentino is the author of a previous novel, Sound on Sound. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Showing 1-4 of 4 reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The central character is not, with all due respect to the other reviewers, a cipher. She is very young, very undeveloped, and her mental landscape reflects this. How to make her compelling? Prior to the defining event her experiences have been unusual relative to those of most people - acquaintance with Jackie Kennedy, member of a very wealthy family, a precocious somewhat controversial cohabitation with a youth of humbler antecedents - and yet colourless and unengaging. All her life to date is waiting for a time still far ahead in the future to cast the gaze of sophisticated,informed reminiscence over it and make it significant and give it any solidity at all.
The matrix into which she is suddenly thrown is a ludicrously unstable combination of disavowed lives and personalities strenuously scrubbed away (but not of course obliterated) in order for a chaotic process of reinvention, collective and individual, to take place. This is the Symbionese Liberation Army, mainly white, mainly female, a political cult improvised from a collection of fragments.
Alice, or Tania as she becomes, is coerced into entering this carnival, and the coercion is of a kind which takes no notice of the compliance or otherwise of its subject. What her attitude to the initial phase is predates the book, which opens immediately before the killing of six SLA members whilst Tania and her colleagues visit a supermarket. The online FBI page about this ends with the words "Case closed", but that is wishful thinking.
The events of the night of the kidnap, the incarceration in the closet, the torture - all the juicy stuff one wants to know - only appear in anecdotal reminiscence and inconsequential musings, which makes these events, of course, even more mysterious and enthralling.
By the time the book opens Tania/Alice is already entranced, and the difficult work is to explore that state. However it's an undoubted evasion for Sorrentino to avoid a direct account of Tania/Alice's pre-trance state, or the initial phases of its development. He does not judge nor give us the means to judge her culpability, and it has long been decided that this is the point of Patti Hearst's story. Did she? Was she?
Confusion or Bewilderment are perhaps the titles of other books, and hint even more at disappointment than Trance, but in effect what Tania/Alice experiences are a flood of internal events (they scarcely rise into thoughts or imaginings)over which she has no control other than to accept them. She appears to have been unboundaried, mentally and physically, is still functional but now bowling along apparently under her own motivation but without the idea of it being necessary to decide anything in advance any more - or to be capable of deciding if asked. She is much more vivid now but chaotically occupied by a rendition of herself which seems like her former self but does not belong. Brainwashing seems too one-dimensional a description for the restlessness of her state, so meaningful in its moments which never amount to a meaningful continuum.
The famous tribute to Cujo and all the dead SLA is as real and sincere and true as anything she can offer at that time but not real enough to be recalled for repetition. Sorrentino's analysis of the protagonist is finally obscure, which is right - if his minute novel-long description does not speak for itself it cannot be rectified by superimposing a summation. One is shown is a human being whose brake cables have been cut, set to roll downhill.
Perhaps another writer would have sounded a note of compassion at this, the human in question being no more than 21, but this is not a compassionate book. Tragedy is shouted down by a sort of uproarious anger. Sinque's letter to his probation officer, a heartbreaking document in its way, is described as "A portrait of the Field-Marshal as a young man".
Sinque is a very palpable monster, grimacing deliriously just offstage beneath his hat, but when one has done agreeing with Mr Galton in his visceral disgust for the greedy, arrogant, selfish youth of today, as exemplified by Sinque's ravings, one feels that there is something more to say and that Sinque's fury displays it. Great wealth makes great poverty: poverty so created is feral, squalid, complex. Sinque has come from somewhere and certain forces have shaped him; greed, arrogance, and selfishness are ugly, but they are not those forces, they are effects. This is one of the duff notes.
The other, for me, is also political. Towards the end the remaining women form a women's group - a Symbionese Liberation Army's Women's Liberation Movement Unit, if you like. Sorrentino unleashes the full force of his satirical contempt on this project (which is a force indeed), but for me it falls flat. However absurd the rhetoric the brutal realities of male on female oppression and abuse have been far too eloquently portrayed in this book to mask the genuine spark of agony at the heart of the SLA women's pathetic project.
But nonetheless a brilliant masterpiece, with some coruscating set-pieces. I warmly recommend the stand-up comedian's tribute to Nixon immediately after Nixon's downfall - and I warmly recommend this astonishing book as a whole.
In 1973 a group of young people calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army abducted Patty Hearst, daughter of the newspaper heir. In the book Sorrentino has called her Alice Galton, but there is no mistaking who this book is about. Renaming her `Tania' they kept her in a closet for several weeks, tied up, blindfolded and subjected to sexual and verbal assaults. In the weeks to come she took part in a bank raid and issued statements calling her parents "Pigs" and uttering the slogans of her fellow revolutionaries. Then six of the army were trapped in a shoot-out with police, who decided to smoke-bomb and eventually set fire to the building. These six members of the SLA were all killed. The radical left of Berkeley, California, rallied round and with the help of a sports journalist, in the book called Guy Mock (though he has a real-life counterpart), the remains of the SLA, consisting of Tania, "General" Tenko and Yolanda, together with a Japanese American known as Joan, are spirited across America to a new hide-out and everything in the media goes quiet for around 16 months, but the FBI are on their trail.
None of the events are seen primarily from the point of view of Tania, and Sorrentino has said that this is deliberate. He is not interested in romanticising her extraordinary story with details of her affair with Cujo, one of the SLA members with whom she exchanged love tokens, or in politicising her capture with explanations as to how she might be a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome, whereby captives begin to identify with their captors. Sorrentino sees Tania as a subject of the media fiction created out of fact, an icon of the nation - she is someone who is famous for being famous. Yet for all that, at the centre of the book there is a young woman, a cipher, almost, standing in front of a seven-headed serpent, the symbol of the SLA.
Sorrentino's narrative is faithful to the documented truth, yet his narrative delivery is a battleground of competing ideas, a marvellous rehearsal of controversy, cultural perversity and dialectical argument, all based on the fantastical notion of an American revolution in the hands of a group of dissidents against a largely unmoved and unmovably bovine mass. Mining his politically acute and nerveless uber-text is like finding jewels in a river bed. You will nowhere find, however, the human answers to this terrific conundrum, or to the one posed at Patty Hearst's trial. Was she guilty? Of course she was. And then again... But isn't that just, and right? Where are the answers to the philosophical and political mysteries of our time? Isn't it always a matter of who you are and how you live?
This is not what might be called an `easy read', but I found myself hypnotised by the awesome, incantatory, by turns intimate and expansive, shining brilliance of the prose.
The author apparently hit on the idea for this novel while watching Ms Hearst in a John Waters film - the collision of pop-culture and Patty are key to this book, and relevant when you remind yourself Madonna imitated Patty's SLA terrorist chic on the sloppy 'American Life' album. Or that Neil Young wrote songs on the recently reissued 'On the Beach' that nodded to the SLA (see also Black Box Recorder's 'Kidnapping an Heiress'). 'Trance' captures its era perfectly, anyone interested in the 1970s should enjoy this, and it feels in some ways a companion to Jonathan Lethem's 'The Fortress of Solitude.'
Despite the fact the material seems familiar, Sorrentino makes it seem fresh and is as succesful with the Hearst-SLA history in fictional terms as Don DeLillo was with Oswald-JFK with 'Libra' or Ellroy was with the covert stuff in 'American Tabloid.' Comparisons to something like 'The Executioner's Song' or 'In Cold Blood' seem valid to me. 'Trance' is a great American novel, and as great as Philip Roth's recent 'The Plot Against America', which collided fiction with history.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Wrong. I think this book is only a winner for SLA/Hearst-ophiles who can put the story in a larger context. It does not stand on its own at all. It is told from way too many points of view, and it takes tremendous concentration in the beginning of the book to remember all these characters and figure out why each one of them is narrating. I got bogged down in the switching-around and wanted the action to get started.
Other reviewers have talked about the beautifully developed characters and scenes. I had the opposite reaction to the long inner dialogues and descriptive passages--I wanted Sorrentino to get along with the action already.
Despite its length, Trance is a page-turner, too, with edge-of-the-seat scenes of suspense and the compelling detail of a police procedural. And yet this is a highly adventurous work of art as well, with its surprises (shifts in tense and point of view, highly cinematic renderings of certain scenes, entertainingly digressive set-pieces, intertextual and popcultural references, subtle typographic play) integrated into the text so expertly one hardly notices the "experimental."
At the end, the reader realizes that the story of "Patty Hearst" (Alice Galton, in this version) is a mere pretext on which Sorrentino drapes this narrative coat of many colors, a device through which he depicts and satirizes the seismic disturbances upsetting American culture during the 70's, the bankruptcy of cheap revolutionary rhetoric, the meaning and depth of identity itself.
Trance is a masterpiece, powerful and exuberant and beautiful.
The book opens with "Tania", freshly converted to the Symbionese cause, firing upon a L.A. sporting goods owner who is trying to corral her two comrades for a petty shoplifting incident. This shooting tragically leads to the deaths of the other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army in a fire fight with police and Tania and the other two survivors go underground in what is now known as "The Missing Year". As people who saw the documentary "Guerilla" know, the missing year is a big hole in the known record. Sorrentino fills that gap with creative enthusiasm and style.
Trance contains a number of scenes that make it a slightly surreal, weirdly funny, cinematic, and always gripping read, as well as being extremely intelligent and perceptive. There's an incredible shoot-out sequence in the first chapter after a long and suspenseful build up. There's an autopsy scene that brings home the reality of the death these young radicals always spoke of so easily. There are the thoughts of Tania's mother and father as they puzzle over their daughter's betrayal of them and their class. There is an exploration of how radical ideas could infect some very normal young kids from middle class backgrounds. There is a well-paced and interesting look at the methodical efforts of the FBI in finding Tania and the rest of the SLA. On this level the book is satisfying in a very straightforward way.
But there is also a very funny (and dirty) letter from a pet owner to Penthouse Forum, and anagrams, a hilarious scene where one character has a psychic divulge to him the unseen ingredients of the fast food he's been eating, two unusually knowledgable FBI agents playing a game of Boticelli during a stakeout, a scathing standup comedy routine at the old Grossingers hotel which degenerates into an absurdist riff on the Nixon presidency, a teenage boy who guiltily abuses himself to thoughts of Flip Wilson's transvestite alter-ego, Geraldine, unhinged encounters with Sara Jane Moore (who tried to kill Jerry Ford and was also involved with the SLA). In always trying something new, Trance is mapping imaginative terrain as much as it is historical.
This is a perfect book for the fans of writers like Don Delillo, Philip Roth, Jonathan Lethem, or David Foster Wallace.
How it does go on. I like to read before going to sleep and this book actually made me dread going up to bed. I'm old enough to remember when everyone was wondering what had happened to Patty Hearst, and I can't say I've learned much new, except that this story is more tragic than I had thought Thank God those days are over, and we've moved on to some other politically fraught era.
For good reading, I've enjoyed most of the other reviews of this book more than the book itself.