From National Book Award finalist Christopher Sorrentino, a bracing, kaleidoscopic look at love and obsession, loyalty and betrayal, race and identity, compulsion and free will…
Sandy Mulligan is in trouble. To escape his turbulent private life and the scandal that’s maimed his public reputation, he’s retreated from Brooklyn to the quiet Michigan town where he hopes to finish his long-overdue novel. There, he becomes fascinated by John Salteau, a native Ojibway storyteller who regularly appears at the local library.
But Salteau is not what he appears to be—a fact suspected by Kat Danhoff, an ambitious Chicago reporter of elusive ethnic origins who arrives to investigate a theft from a nearby Indian-run casino. Salteau’s possible role in the crime could be the key to the biggest story of her stalled career. Bored, emotionally careless, and sexually reckless, Kat’s sudden appearance in town immediately attracts a restive Sandy.
As the novel weaves among these characters uncovering the conflicts and contradictions between their stories, we learn that all three are fugitives of one kind or another, harboring secrets that threaten to overturn their invented lives and the stories they tell to spin them into being. In their growing involvement, each becomes a pawn in the others’ games—all of them just one mistake from losing everything.
The signature Sorrentino touches that captivated readers of Trance are all here: sparkling dialogue, narrative urgency, mordant wit, and inventive, crystalline prose—but it is the deeply imagined interior lives of its characters that set this novel apart. Moving, funny, tense, and mysterious, The Fugitives is at once a love story, a ghost story, and a crime thriller. It is also a cautionary tale of twenty-first century American life—a meditation on the meaning of identity, on the role storytelling plays in our understanding of ourselves and each other, and on the difficulty of making genuine connections in a world that’s connected in almost every way.
Exuberantly satirical, darkly enigmatic, and completely unforgettable, The Fugitives is an event that reaffirms Sorrentino’s position as an American writer of the first rank.
1 STORY time is at eleven, the preschoolers and their mothers, mostly the mothers; the occasional father looking faintly uncomfortable with his kid, as if he’d been asked to monitor an unfamiliar piece of equipment; sometimes babysitters, unhurried grandpas, older siblings icy with shame. Tuesday and Thursday mornings they arrive and cluster around the bronze bear, its paws, snout, and ears worn smooth and dull, to listen. Before John Salteau began, a few months ago, to tell stories twice each week at the library (“Tricksters and Sleeping Bears: Native Tales from Northwestern Michigan with John Salteau”), they had a woman whose pedantic cheer fooled none of the kids: sung and shouted drills involving colors, numbers, the names of household objects. She drove up once a week from Frankfort with a steel-string guitar and a cinnamon-colored puppet named Ginger and played to a half-empty room every time. Now she’s gone. Salteau invariably fills the place.
I began to sit in the library some mornings because I like the stripped tone; the clean isolation of the footfalls and the scraping of chairs against the floor, the stillness in which other people’s most perfectly ingrained habits are encased and displayed. This one wets his index finger. This one moves her lips. Nose pickers and foot tappers. Plus it’s a nice place to come to rest in the middle of my morning circuit, when the work is done or (more likely, these days) stalled and I leave home to walk the arboreal streets (my house is between Oak and Maple; nearby are Cedar, Pine, Locust, Elmwood) or wander onto the nearby grounds of the former lunatic asylum, now a curiously mournful park.
If I arrive at the library before eleven, I’ll wait. There’s no other feeling like that of the restraint in a quiet room filled with people. Conditional unity, breached under the duress of petty bodily betrayals, farts and sneezes. The heads come up, mildly curious, then fall once more to the printed lines. One time, a middle-aged man, in a suit and tie, sat energetically turning the pages of the Record-Eagle, as if he were scanning it for a particular item: he was gently urged from the premises by a library employee who bent close to whisper to him, laying a quieting finger on the pages of newsprint. The man left, striding through a watchful silence, his newspaper abandoned on the table.
I haven’t listened to an adult tell stories to an audience of children since I was a child myself, but I’m not surprised to find that I’m calmed and reassured by it, the voice an ember glowing and changing in the midst of a muted stillness that might itself ignite at any moment. The boundaries inherent in performance are there, but there’s also an ambiguity, an offhand sense of collaboration. That regular glimpse of the inventive tension latent in those quiet, crowded spaces, when the voice begins speaking, and especially when it pauses and the room falls into its willed hush once again, is one part of what holds me in my seat in the children’s library (rather, “Youth Services Department”) twice a week. The other part remains a mystery to me.
DYLAN FECKER TOLD me on the phone, “A kids’ library? What it sounds like to me is that you miss going out. He misses going out.” I’m a writer, and Dylan is my agent. To him, a panicked social life is the sole bellwether of mental health. In confusion he finds relief. Only his phone knows what he’s scheduled to do next. Without it, he might starve, freeze, wander mistakenly onto public transportation.
“I go out all the time,” I said. “The whole place is mostly out. Here, outside is the default. Indoors is shelter.”
“When I say ‘going out,’ you know what I mean. And you miss it. Why can’t you just say that? Why can’t he just say what he means for once? Quicker and less confusingly? These are the big questions people want answers to. People are always waiting for him to say what he means, and then he says it, and Monte and I have to clarify.” Monte is my editor.
“What do you tell them?”
“That it’s all about getting to the center of the human heart. But you can thank me later. Are you writing? He’s not writing.”
“I would be.”
“He’s being smart. Don’t be smart. I’ve tried calling you when you’re really working: you can’t wait to get rid of me. Lately you’re lingering. Lately you want to talk.”
“Oh, is that what you’re getting?”
“Don’t be smart, I said. You’re not writing. I admit I made a big mistake letting you move out there all by yourself. I said, he’s a big boy. Was I wrong.”
“You weren’t wrong. I took my temperature this morning. Totally normal. Sent myself off to school, kicking and screaming.”
“Ha ha ha. Listen. You went out there, you said you wanted quiet. I say OK, he needs to turn it down for a while. I understand. I saw how the last couple of years were going for you, for you and Rae. And that terrible business with Susannah. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t rush you. But Monte is eager to see pages. They’re tracking you. Where is he with it, is the general tenor of things.”
Dylan had allowed his sense of romance to persuade him that there was something valuable, even narratively inevitable, in my leaving New York to come to northern Michigan and finish a book. It seemed right to him, right and just, that a gifted person should flee from the distractions and temptations of a big city, flee from the difficulties of a complicated personal life, to make art in self-imposed exile, working from the provinces. If some artists court outrage, others court solitude: it was a chunk of wisdom as simple as a popcorn date at the multiplex. He expected searingly brilliant, expiatory pages to flow one way, direct from my computer to his office on Mercer Street. That was the agreement, as far as he was concerned. That, he claimed, was what had kept him from going to the airport and wrestling me off the plane personally. It wouldn’t have helped at all to explain to him that I didn’t feel purposeful, I felt dangerously adrift; that escape wasn’t a strategic writerly ploy but simply and only escape. For Dylan there was no such thing as flight. He stayed, he survived, he thrived. He’d had some successes; I was one of them; I was letting him down. This much was clear. The fierce pages weren’t erupting from my printer, weren’t springing to life on his 24-inch active matrix display as unencrypted digital attachments. Exile and cunning he would accept, silence was another story.
“Just get out of the house once in a while. Better yet, come back to Brooklyn and then get in a cab or whatever it is you people have there and come to Manhattan to talk to me in person. I just don’t get what you’re doing.”
“It’s all about getting to the center of the human heart.”
“Please. They don’t have what you need to be human out there.”
Christopher Sorrentino is the author of five books, including the National Book Award Finalist Trance. His work has appeared in Esquire, Granta, Harper's, The New York Times, Tin House, and many other publications. He lives in New York City.
"The language of The Fugitives is at once remarkable, startling and invisible. I was completely sucked into the worlds of these characters. It takes a master to make me forget I'm holding a book. Well, I forgot that for more than 300 pages. Brilliant." —Percival Everett
“A powerful and fiercely unsentimental novel that blazes past all the well-worn pieties about love and loss and leaves them in ashes.” —Jenny Offill
“You don't generally read fiction writer Christopher Sorrentino for his plots. You read his novels for the music of his language, the acuteness of his ear for American vernacular, and for the sense that however relaxed his approach to storytelling, he's guiding the reader someplace worth going.... But even in this more story-driven book, Sorrentino finds meaning, melody, grace and more than a little comedy in moments that play out the furthest edges of the plot. It's the texture of what happens between the lines of the story, not the story itself, that sticks in the reader's mind.”
– Chicago Tribune's Printer's Row
“Stunning….an entirely new kind of novel with exceptional interior monologues animated by deception, double-dealing and a doomed affair that lends an air of existential dread to the story.”
– Los Angeles Times
“But knowingness is a funny thing in The Fugitives, a novel too cunning, and too interested in how manipulatively autobiographical narratives are deployed,to be read as a simple roman à clef. We all know the How We Live Now novel;this is a How We Lie Now novel…. Bullshit is the only system Mulligan knows,and it’s a system too entrenched for either him or Kat to escape, let alone find love in. The Fugitives is a novel of that system: It shows us what we’re all stuck inside. ‘Only in death,’ says a ghost, summarily, ‘is there time to rue life as fully as life deserves.’ This brilliantly cranky book suggests that the ghost might be wrong.”
“Sorrentino proved to be a virtuoso of narrative complexity and acid social commentary in Trance (2005), a National Book Award finalist. In this heady tale of self and identity, vocation and ambition, he demonstrates his wily comedic skills….Generating psychological and cultural insights as bright and stinging as a wielder’s sparks, Sorrentino blasts insidious commercialism and corruption, digital narcosis, and the failures of the book and newspaper worlds, while detonating hollow notions of authenticity, ethics, and freedom. A mischievously funny, keenly incisive, and mind-bending outlaw tale.”
– Booklist (starred review)
“His name evokes Sorrentino’s father’s acclaimed novel Mulligan Stew, another tale of a struggling writer whose narrative falls apart. Mulligan’s novel suffers neglect as he befriends a swindler and becomes involved with an investigative reporter who’s there to uncover the crime; Sorrentino’s plot, in contrast, is fine-tuned.”
– The Millions
“The Fugitives, rife with Sorrentino’s dark wit and acute cultural observations, does not disappoint.” (Dana Spiotta, BOMB)
Praise for Trance
"Like Don DeLillo in Libra and Philip Roth in American Pastoral, Christopher Sorrentino has opened the pages of his fiction to the breadth of collective memory, and the result is one of the most humane and haunting novels I've read in years...Sorrentino possesses a searing gaze, a polymath's erudition, and a lover's ear for the frailties of human language." —Jonathan Lethem
"Trance is a work of startling insight, marvelously and masterfully evoking the grim stuff of true American nightmares." —Colson Whitehead
"Playful, scathing, gripping, and profound, this book is a meditation and a provocation, full of humor and menace. Sorrentino has broken new ground at the border of fiction and history." —Sam Lipsyte
"An ambitious, intelligent, and kaleidoscopically opulent book, remarkably evocative of the textures and tones of the seventies. Sorrentino has a talent for creating authentic, microscopic moments that capture the spirit of the era." —Lydia Millet
"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 ot read -- delightful and often funny." —Los Angeles Times
"[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
"Sorrentino has something of Don DeLillo's ear for American white noise -- for the hiss and crackle that fills the country's derelict spaces." —New York Times Book Review
Praise for SOUND ON SOUND
“Sorrentino has used the rock book format (and his superbly pompous ‘multitrack’ device) as a vehicle for a brilliant and complex novel about remembered truths and modern ennui...gasps of bright poetry...eloquent prose.” —Patrick Barber, Los Angeles Reader
“...reading rock’n’roll has never been a particularly rewarding experience...but by handling submediocre musicians with cynical wit and an inventive kind of non-storytelling--and by being admirably unmindful of SPINAL TAP--Sorrentino gives the rock novel some hope.” —Marc Weidenbaum, PULSE!
“Flawlessly executed...sheer virtuosity...funny, perceptive and dead-on the satirical mark.” —Publishers Weekly
"As a sardonic condemnation of the bloated egos of rock 'n' roll, it's a ten-minute drum solo with flaming cymbals." —LIT (Chicago)