The Subject Steve
, Sam Lipsyte's remarkable debut novel, is an ebullient, bawdy and idiosyncratic assault on American consumer culture. Like fellow mercurial satirists Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, Lipsyte is an impressive stylist. His argot is the psychobabble of corporate jargon, advertising slogans and soundbites. Wordplay, rather than characterisation is Lipsyte's métier and his language positively fizzes with invention. The characters here don't so much converse as exchange obtuse epigrammatic non-sequiturs and indulge in linguistic quips. This should, of course, be utterly infuriating but it isn't. The dialogue, like the rest of this savage, absurdist take on contemporary life (and more precisely our horror of death), is startlingly acute and unrelentingly funny.
The eponymous Steve (who claims his name is not Steve) is a mild-mannered 37-year old ad man who pens slogans celebrating the "ongoing orgasm of the information lifestyle". Unfortunately he's dying but "he's dying of something nobody has ever died of before: he's actually going to die of boredom". The scientists (who may not be scientists although they do wear white coats) "calculate that there can be no calculations" about how long he has left to live. Faced with this eventuality he embarks on a particularly wayward sexual, narcotic and religious odyssey. Lipsyte fills Steve's journey with so many oddball doctors, multimedia weirdoes, dysfunctional gurus and bizarre sexual encounters it's actually rather difficult to imagine anyone dying of boredom. Exhaustion, perhaps.
Steve hires prostitutes, catches up with old friends, foes, his ex-wife, disaffected daughter and seeks a cure at Henrich of Newark's "Center for Nondenominational Recovery and Redemption". Henrich, a former government interrogator who now maintains discipline by forcing mothers to fellate their own sons, has an interesting line in cheese spreads, "decisive violence" and bestiality fables. His devotees include Bobby Trubate, a clapped-out actor with messianic delusions; Renee, a legless lesbian who takes a surprising interest in Steve's sexual organ and Parish, a psychopathic chief who puts kiwi fruits in the stew. They're odd but as everyone else keeps telling him he's "a goner" what choice does Steve have? Ludicrous and occasionally even a little bit sick, Lipsyte's surreal, intelligent black comedy proves that death really can be a laughing matter. --Travis Elborough
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘Sam Lipsyte is a gifted stylist, precise, original, devious, and very funny. In a time when the language of most novels is dead on arrival, this book, about a dying man, is startlingly alive.’ Jeffrey Eugenides, author of ‘Middlesex’ and ‘The Virgin Suicides’
‘An all-American tale made up of smart deliveries and cracking ideas…reminiscent of Douglas Coupland or “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”.’ Observer
‘I laughed out loud – and I never laugh out loud…’ Chuck Palahniuk, author of ‘Fight Club’
‘An original voice: smart, savvy…intensely funny.’ TLS
‘The best thing since George Saunders last broke cover…Kind of Beckett meets “Six Feet Under”, comedy doesn’t come much blacker than this.’ Uncut
‘Rowdy, shocking and lyrical…very funny.’ New Yorker
‘Dark, lancing humour, first-rate satire and writing that dares to be bold and edgy.’ San Francisco Chronicle
‘Laugh-out-loud funny…By turns strange, disturbing and hilarious.’ Irish Independent