by Sam Lipsyte, reading at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, Tuesday February 1, 7:30 pm
The word is thrown around every day: "perfect." But, real encounters with perfection are so rare they can take on a quasi-religious significance. And so, you'll have to excuse the following if it sounds like the crazed prattling of a cult member extolling the virtues of a misunderstood messiah. You just haven't sipped the Kool-Aid yet; you haven't read Sam Lipsyte's latest novel, Home Land.
This epistolary novel consists solely of "updates" from Lewis Miner--a.k.a. Teabag--to his high school alumni newsletter, Catamount Notes. Teabag is more than happy to admit that his life "did not pan out"--he's fat, semi-unemployed and he gave up driving because "he couldn't deal"--but when his updates are censored for merely telling the truth, he finds a purpose in life. He continues to write to his fellow Catamounts despite never getting published. He relays his adventures with his best friend Gary (a.k.a. The Retractor, Goony, Guano, Dirtfuck and Captain Thorazine), mourns the loss of his love and takes shots at vainglorious alumni. The letters become a darkly comic exercise in futility, a way for Teabag to speak to the world (even if it won't listen), a prophetic warning to unborn Catamounts: things are not okay; not everyone ends up like Mikey Saladin, the pro shortstop, or Doctor Stacy Ryson.
For all its nihilistic apathy, and in many ways because of it, Home Land is the funniest book I've ever read, hands down. Teabag is a grown-up Holden Caulfield who is so tired of the phonies surrounding him he only occasionally pokes his head out from a haze of pot smoke, junk food, and internet legwarmer porn. Whenever he does, he finds that humor and sarcasm are the only weapons in his battle for meaning, a battle that will pry audible chuckles from the most stoic reader.
Lipsyte's true genius lies in his jaw-dropping prose and the fragile, ever-beating heart he gives his story. He crafts air-tight, comedic hallucinations from the bleakest aspects of modern life, and somehow leaves you searching for the overweight misanthrope within yourself--a lonely voice huddled in your subconscious, sedated by television and hardened by other people, balding, hungover and longing only to be loved. There is a little Teabag inside us all.