Acute, intimate and exceedingly fair, Sorrentino’s memoir is a post-mortem that examines not the causes of his parents’ deaths but the endurance and effects of their confounding marriage ... Vicki is a product of the kill-or-be-killed Lower East Side, and the scenes set there in the family’s early days in the 1960s, before they moved to a brittle, elite art commune in Greenwich Village, are fierce and vivid ... more than resentment or self-pity or even grief, what animates this memoir is the very human curiosity about the psychology of one’s parents and therefore the preconditions of one’s own life ... Sorrentino is wary of leaning on the language of trauma, helpful as it might be, to prescribe familiar roles to his parents, or for that matter, to himself. He is more interested in describing the way it feels to exist in a dysfunctional, sometimes estranged, always paradoxical family—unhappy in its own way—from the inside out, and each description feels truer than the last, closer to the center of the family’s shared nervous system ... he indulges in novelistic and cinematic flourishes — cascading lists, lyrical still lifes — only occasionally. The book’s most deeply felt risks are in the open-veined vulnerability of a line, a stripping away of style ... We may have a greater cultural appetite for eulogies, but an autopsy, in looking directly at the cold corpse of a family in all its gruesomeness and mystery, can be just as profound, and in the hands of a writer as restrained and humane as Sorrentino, just as beautiful.
As evidenced by the Samuel Beckett-inspired title, Sorrentino’s artistic influences run heady—many of them inherited from his father, the novelist Gilbert Sorrentino—and while the pagelong paragraphs can occasionally feel exhausting, they’re redeemed by the engrossing world he builds in lucid detail. Even at its darkest, this rich narrative shines.
... an unvarnished portrait of a family characterized by 'recrimination, sadness, jealousy, grief, despair' ... Neither parent emerges as sympathetic in a well-written memoir that betrays enduring resentment. A sharp, sad tale of bitterness and regret.