May 24, 2005

BOOKS: Home Life, Sam Lipsyte (2005/2004 UK)

In a series of letters to his high school alumni newsletter, Lewis "Teabag" Minor (class of '89) reports on his life, which has not been a particular success. Lewis drifts from job to job, has only one close friend, and doesn't get along with his father. (A typical piece of Minor fatherly love: "Do you think my world turns on your happiness? Your success? Do what you please. Just make sure you're alive to wipe my ass when I'm an invalid.")

Lewis knows that his updates are never actually going to be published in Catamount Notes, which is only interested in reporting on the stars of his class -- the state senator, the pro baseball player -- and certainly doesn't want to hear his blunt descriptions of a life that didn't pan out that well.

For 60 pages or so, I was in love with this book. The prose is distinctive and very funny, and Lewis manages to be lovable despite his lack of interest in life, success, or other people. But as the book goes on, the bleakness of Lewis's life gets tiring, and the humor becomes more desperate and frantic. That's the point, of course; Lewis jokes about life because it's easier than actually participating in it. But for all of Lipsyte's stylistic tricks, he doesn't provide an answer to the key question: If Lewis doesn't give a crap about his own life, why should I? The punchlines began to feel like an assault.

Here I am 40 pages from the end of the book, and I just can't bring myself to finish the damn thing, which I set aside with great disappointment.

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