... intelligent, serious and unapologetically explicit ... it’s hard to care all that much. Crazy Sorrow succeeds at many things — it’s sometimes gorgeously written; it frequently evokes the texture of the city with precision and artfulness; the perspective it brings to bear is both large-minded and discerning. But the one thing it doesn’t quite succeed at is in bringing its main characters to life ... short on scenes in which personality traits, like cynicism and detachment, are dramatized through dialogue and action. The meet-cute at the bicentennial, the ensuing sex, the tripping sequence, none of them really do it; at heart these scenes are about a girl and a boy meeting, not about George and Anna as individuals ... isn’t tightly plotted. It’s composed of scenes that are pointillistic moments in time. And a fair percentage of these moments involve sex. Bodies are described frankly and graphically, and not just female bodies: Crazy Sorrow is equal-opportunity in its gaze...Every once in a while, in one of these sex scenes, Passaro has something genuinely interesting to say ... the whole litany of matter-of-fact detail about mostly fleeting and not particularly memorable erotic encounters begins to feel rather grim. This may be Passaro’s point, but that doesn’t make it any less tedious to read. The language in which these acts are described is concrete but flat. Humor, which might leaven the procession of body parts, isn’t absent entirely but is rather scarce, and when it comes to character development, the sex scenes give rise mostly to the kind of canned insights that might feel earned in therapy but don’t tend to come alive on the page ... Whereas the sex scenes seem rudderless, without either a larger purpose or enough vim to keep them interesting, George’s perceptive, often original reflections on wealth, on the city, on grief and melancholy add up to something bigger, ultimately giving the novel a pull that it lacks in the early going ... what Passaro has done well in Crazy Sorrow is evoke not George and Anna’s attraction to each other, not a romantic hero and heroine, but a vanished time and place — the mood on that gritty landfill off the financial district in 1976.
Passaro crafts a novel that’s very Manhattan in its particulars, with fine-grained descriptions of the World Trade Center and people lining up to buy the Village Voice to get a jump on apartment listings. But he’s also big-theme hunting, exploring the ways money shapes character, how sex binds or wrecks relationships, and how we endure and survive grief. (The mention of the twin towers on Page 1 all but sounds an airhorn to let us know that theme is surely coming.) Passaro writes exquisitely at every turn, narrating with an engaging worldly-wise tone. But the novel is also curiously centerless; its leads march through sexual abuse, breakups, bad jobs, and even 9/11 so implacably that the novel feels less about human beings than victims (or beneficiaries) of fickle fate. The novel’s epic sweep is ambitious, but the emotional intensity of the characters gets somewhat smothered amid it ... Passaro’s widescreen storytelling strives to cover everything, almost to a fault.