Friday, December 16, 2005

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte

As opposed to exuberant writing (see Adam Johnson's Parasites Like Us), the novel Home Land is manic writing. At first, the voice (and the author) seemed totally out of control--too anything goes--but then about ten or so pages in, I simply accepted it. This was a rant--a barely in control rant that belonged to a barely in control character--and I was going to go along simply to see would happen next. And then the book got really really funny. It was probably funny from the start, but I had to let my defenses down and accept that this wasn't realism so I shouldn't be expecting realistic behavior.

The narrator is a middle-aged, unsuccessful, seemingly not very intelligent, middle-class guy who keeps sending totally insane updates to his high school newsletter. At first, I was very suspicious of this conceit--I didn't want to read a whole novel of newsletter updates--but ultimately if Lipsyte hadn't stuck to it, the novel probably would have been much less successful. And this device is precisely the kind of thing that often gets struck down in workshop, where students have a tendency, if un-attended, to not let writing get too strange. I could see myself even suggesting that the author use the device as a start to the novel, but to let it drop quickly. And to some degree Lipsyte does--he uses scene, he uses far fewer "dear reader" moments in which he directly addresses his fellow alumni (the Catamounts) as the novel goes on, and he culminates in a high school reunion that involves many of the alumni that previously were seen in the updates. But he never lets go of the idea completely and it pays off in the end. So this is just a shout out to those who take risks in workshop and don't let the rest of us dissuade you from them.

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