Set at a boardinghouse in rural New Jersey in the summer of 1939, this novel revolves around four people who experience the comedies, torments and rare pleasures of family, romance and sex while on vacation from Brooklyn and the Depression. Billy Recco, an eager ten-year-old in search of a father . . . Marie Recco, nee McGrath, an attractive divorcee caught between her son and father, without a life of her own . . . John McGrath, dignified in manner yet brutally soured by life, insanely fearful of his daughter’s restlessness . . . Tom Thebus, a rakish salesman who precipitates the conflict between Marie’s hopes and her father’s wrath.
We follow these individuals through the events of thirty-six hours, culminating in Tom’s disastrous near seduction of Marie. As the novel’s perspective shifts to each of these characters, four discrete stories take form, stories that Sorrentino further enriches by using a variety of literary methods—fantasies, letters, a narrative question-and-answer, fragments of dialogue and memory. Strong and unforgettable, each voice is compelling in itself, yet in the end is only part of a complex, painful pattern in which dreams go unfulfilled and efforts unrewarded.
What emerges is a sure understanding of four people who are occasionally ridiculous, but whose integrity and good intentions are consistently, and tragically, frustrated. Combining humor and feeling, balancing the details and the rhythms of experience, Aberration of Starlight re-creates a time and a place as it captures the sadness and value of four lives. First published by Random House in 1980, it is widely considered one of Sorrentino’s finest novels.