Friday, September 13, 2013

Failed Dreams and Hilarity in Lipsyte’s Home Land

(Editor’s Note: Apologies for the hiatus.  Since the arrival of our tiny Literate Man, Sam, there have been fewer hours in the day for basic exercises like reading, sleeping, and working on our time machine.  But we are now back at work.  Also, please do wish our very own talented editor/author/highlander, Patrick, a happy 400th birthday today!)

Candor and honesty are rare commodities and not something typically found in a high school alumni newsletter.  Unless you’re reading Catamount Notes, an alumni correspondence containing personal updates penned by a certain Lewis Minor.  These soul-bearing dispatches are riddled with failure and regret –but never without hope!- and form the basis for Sam Lipsyte’s novel, Home Land, a darkly hilarious and surprisingly poignant examination of what remains when your dreams are crushed and you find yourself three months late with the rent.

Minor, aka Teabag, is our faithful tour guide through the wreckage of his unfulfilled aspirations.  Years after graduating, little has changed from his high school days.  He still lives in the same mind-numbing New Jersey suburb; he still has the same friends; he still suffers the same insecurities; he still does the same stupid things; and he describes them all in a very frank and very funny way.  But with his ten-year high school reunion fast approaching feelings of self-doubt and disillusionment began to cloud the horizon as people and events he’s tried to forget begin reappearing in his life with mostly unpleasant results. 

Lipsyte has a rare talent for narrative introspection that is both entertaining and revealing.  In Teabag, he’s created a distinctive protagonist, a sort of Ignatius J. Reilly/Holden Caufield mash up, that will not soon be forgotten.  He’s a crass buffoon that if not for his redeeming vulnerability, would come off as the kind of weirdo you might see hanging around a 7-Eleven browsing pornographic magazines.  But Teabag has heart.  And he pours it out on the pages, both the compelling and the creepy, with heartbreaking honesty. Throughout the story, he and his ensemble of friends and enemies prove a worthy vehicle for Lipsyte’s stylized plumbing of existentialist anxieties. 

The depth of introspection that Lipsyte’s able to achieve in Home Land, often juxtaposed against a backdrop of childish situations or foolish rantings, is a pleasant surprise and a great testament to his talent.  For some, these themes may border on the obscene or feel overdone, but Lipsyte remains true to the characters and the quality of writing is never compromised.  At times, the sparse storyline also feels threatened by the constant introspection, but the overall product will impress with some unexpectedly rich prose, not to mention dozens of laugh-out-loud moments and clever dialogue.

Since publishing Home Land in 2004, Lipsyte, now a professor of fiction at Columbia, has earned wide acclaim for other works such as The Ask (2012) -also recommended by The Literate Man- and The Fun Parts (2012). 

In short, this is one of the funniest novels we’ve read in some time and Lipsyte’s writing is superb.  Home Land is a deceptively good read that will linger in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page.