Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Luncheonette by Steven Sorrentino

Steven Sorrentino was in his early 20's, happily living in New York City, going to auditions, dreaming about performing on Broadway, meeting eligible men, and just generally heading his life in the direction of his choosing when he goes home to New Jersey for a Christmas that will change his life forever. He's met at the door by his mother who tells him that something is wrong with his father. What follows is a medical nightmare that ends with his father paralyzed from the nipples down and Steven putting his own life on hold to take over running dad's luncheonette, abandoning his Broadway dream, and stepping firmly back into the closet required of suburban New Jersey in the early 80's.

This memoir of the years Sorrentino spent at the luncheonette, becoming bitter and frustrated as his father faced more and more health setbacks with smiles and grace is an instructive one. He never glosses over his anger about his situation and his disbelief at his father's relentless cheer in the face of so much loss and while it is clear from the book that he has learned a lot from his father's approach to life, Sorrentino lets the reader see just how difficult and hard fought it was for him to come to understand and appreciate the lesson his father taught him about life and persevering in the face of adversity. He is unafraid to come off looking less than his best. To the outside world he was a wonderful and dutiful son but inside he was seething and unhappy.

Cliff Sorrentino is not a fatalist and he goes about living his life to the fullest, without bemoaning his fate. He runs for mayor and triumphs, his paralysis not holding him back, even as Steven continues closing himself off to any attempt to break free of the stultifying, joyless life he's leading behind the luncheonette counter. Sorrentino has a real talent at drawing the character of the regulars at Cliff's Corner. They start out one dimensional as he hopes that his tenure at the luncheonette will be short-lived but he fleshes them out as he gets to know them over the intervening years. Their little ticks and eccentricities go from being mildly entertaining to annoying as Sorrentino's patience with his lot decreases. There's no epiphany here for Sorrentino and his luncheonette years will probably always be tender like a wound but in the end, this is a loving tribute to the man who taught him by example and gave him a new way to live, no matter how hard following that example might have turned out to be. Fans of unconventional memoirs will quite appreciate this book.


  1. I think I might like this one - great review! I'm adding it to my list.

    Happy Reading!


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