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17 May 2010

Sam Lipsyte’s America. ALSO, how Woody Allen, Bob Dylan & LCD Soundsystem approach American decadence with a similar sense of humor.


Image of Sam Lipsyte with son via Flickr.

I’ve been a huge fan of New York novelist Sam Lipsyte since reading his pretty much unimpeachable 2004 novel Homeland. His new novel, The Ask, is that rare bit of fiction whose publication I anticipated eagerly.

His work is laugh-out-loud funny — rare for the pinched world of literary fiction — but also on the pulsebeat of culture. His punchlines are not only humor for the sake of humor; they are the horrified, cackling, self-conscious crack-up of an insightful artist who understands that laughter is, perhaps, the best reaction an intelligent citizen can have in the face of our culture’s decadent decline. Viz Woody Allen’s New York films of the 1970s, Bob Dylan’s increasingly ridiculous culture-bombing gambits, and whatever it is that LCD Soundsystem are doing these days. Some illustrations, below:

Woody Allen’s coke scene in Annie Hall

Bob Dylan’s Victoria’s Secret advert

LCD Soundsystem’s “Drunk Girls” video by Spike Jonze

Unfortunately I don’t think Lipsyte’s new book coheres in the same way as Homeland did. The Ask lacks both a convincing plot and the devastatingly clever literary conceit that elevated that book. (Homeland took the form of inappropriate, intimate letters to a high school alumni newsletter, 20 years after graduation.) And, finally, this new book’s conclusions are depressing in a way that seemed more exhausted than insightful. It’s as if Lipsyte was so tired of living with these characters he preferred they collapse at the end of the book rather than come upon some germ of real truth or real meaning.

That said, I never stopped laughing and you will be hard pressed to find new piece of fiction that better investigates matters that actually reflect and refract what’s going on in our culture today. Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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