April 2005

Beth Dugan

fiction

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte

Sam Lipsyte’s third book Home Land gives us a guilty pleasure peek into what would happen if someone wrote into those annoying high school alumni bulletins about what was really happening in their life. Lewis “Teabag” Miner, anti-hero extraordinaire, does just that with his monthly letters to the Catamount Notes. Lewis’ life isn’t going… anywhere. He didn’t "pan out" and he shares his world of moral bankruptcy, addiction, and hypocrisy with his fellow Eastern Valley High School graduates.

While having no discernable plot, other than to watch the characters slowly spiral downward into private hells of their own making, Home Land is held together by the unflinching voice of Lewis in his unwanted, spurned, and ultimately censored letters to the Catamount bulletin. Lewis is a loser in the broadest sense of the word. He has no real job, could be sympathetically described as chubby, has given up his driver’s license because the pressure of driving was too much for him, is behind in his rent, does enough drugs to impress the Reverend Jim Ignatowski, has only one friend -- Gary the Retractor, who is way more messed up then he is -- is obsessed with finding images of girls with leg warmers on the Internet for masturbatory purposes and his last girlfriend and love of his life, Gwendolyn, dumped him to spend more time with her incestuously minded movie star brother Lenny.

This lack of plot could be explained by Lewis’ thought, “Stories pour out of us daily, and most of the might not unfairly be lumped under the taxonomic heading: More Boring Than Your Neighbor’s Spork Collection. Ever notice how whenever anybody says, Hey, have you got time for a story?… you find yourself wishing some wheezing and pustular people-snatcher would burst through the wall and carry you off to some dank cave to feast on your viscera?” Though Lewis spurns stories, he continues to tell the Alums all about his life, the events that unfold, and eventually how the interwoven stories all climax at the high school reunion (heavily attended by those same alums) where Lewis gives a stirring self-effacing speech and many loose ends are neatly tied. Though it is not as pat as it sounds, it is still pat.

While Lewis is a classic anti-hero who isn’t particularly likeable, he is the most nuanced character and the most easily identified with since everyone in this book is morally bankrupt, addicted, or has profound sexual picadillos. The one-eyed man is king. These extravagant characters are hilarious and Lipsyte’s writing is whip-smart as he puts Lewis and those around him through their paces, capturing easily the hierarchy of high school sadism and the toilet-bowl-ring of scum that inhabits the "real world." Lipsyte has a stylistic habit of dropping “and” that is distracting at times as in, "Gary never works, needn’t," and "The Mexicans eyeballed my father long enough to ensure he understood they’d considered violence, rejected it," but overall the letter format and the first person view give the story enough oomph to skitter forward along the path of least resistance that Lewis invariably chooses.

Home Land is a hilarious guilty pleasure of a book that is both disturbing and comforting in its familiar context of high school and the pitfalls that many encounter afterward. Lipsyte’s cleverness and unflinching look at a life taken a wrong turn deliver a story worth reading.

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
Picador
ISBN: 0312424183
240 Pages