on 11 July 2013
Sam Lipsyte's crisp, crunchy prose is the kind of serio-comic that makes me go all weak at the knees. I don't do plot summary - anyway, these are short stories. Deniers, #3 (of 13) and unfunny, mainly, is word perfect. You can either wolf this down, as I imagine most time-pressed (or 'normal') people will do, or slowly savour the exquisitely wrought phrasing, as I'm doing; I'm only on page 58 and the arresting phrase 'Holocaust support group' (following on from 'cardio ballet'). Can Lipsyte's novels be this good? 'Endorphins filled her floodplains.' Jonathan D Lippincott's elegantly muted beige cover for the paperback is a joy (though the dark, elegant hardback cover isn't half bad either)
I'm done. If it was my best fiction pick since Love in Infant Monkeys and You're an Animal, Viskovitz, that still leaves it trailing. The Jewish Raymond Chandler? It's not a bad designation; I'd hoped for more. I've a horrible feeling Martin Amis will have sung this book's praises (it's a little dark for Zadie) and if you find the word douchebaggery remotely amusing perhaps you will too. You could say Lipsyte essays a range of registers; unfortunately this extends all too readily to his default, sophomore mode. '[T]hose morose, slightly chippy bots I'd noticed at the refectory whenever I'd rolled in for some transitional pancakes after a night of self-bludgeoning'; reminds me of DFW at his worst. When writing in the first person Lipsyte can equally slip into Chandlerese stand-up ('Ypsilanti was easy to leave. I wasn't from there') and as we read on we acquire a growing dependence on drugs as plot drivers, even in Deniers, though that at least sports a likeable character in the person of Tovah. Sure, plot is artifice ad absurdum, but, like violence in the movies, drugs are just too easy a way, both macho and smug, to represent our moral confusion. Confused? By the end I felt like saying to the author, in the words of one protagonist's father "Why don't you have yourself a nice little lye-and-hantavirus smoothie?" Still love the cover, tho'
on 21 May 2014
One Guardian reviewer said of these stories that 'the riffs come thick and fast, and the gags are sprayed on with a machine gun.' All that is true: the stories are funny, the observations clever and the language incessantly inventive. In some ways, though, the stylistic pace and density of the stories is a little like a Hollywood action blockbuster where all is going at a credible, jaw-dropping jog until things speed up and finally become plain silly. You have to suspend your disbelief. You have to submit yourself to the absurdities. Then his narrative style can be addictive.
Lipsyte's characters are distilled NYC weirdness, and his plots atuned brilliantly to the grotesque and over-blown pretensions of middle class loft living. 'The Climber Room' and 'The Wisdom of the Doulas' are marvellous examples of this. But orientation was sometimes hard for me in a couple of the stories, particularly 'Peasley' and 'The Real-Ass Jumbo', as if the author had just wanted to be obscure, or offer up some piece of crudely stitched creative meditation. But I think Lipsyte's brain, his contemporary world of thought, is possibly a year or two ahead of mine. 'Keep up, dopey', I kept feeling his text telling me. And I did do my best to keep up right until the end. The stories are a very rich meal, and probably best tackled with long, reflective breaks. But if you make it through them all you certainly couldn't be accused of being a lazy reader, and could probably consider yourself hip.