Monday, February 27, 2006

Home Land: A Novel, by Sam Lipsyte - a review

"It's confession time, Catamounts..."

I read Home Land, Sam Lipsyte's mesmerizing new novel which was awarded The Believer's "debut of the year" award more or less on the way to St. Louis for annual meeting a couple of weeks ago. Read might be a bit of a bad choice of words. Inhaled is more accurate. Read it in practically a single day (it isn't long) - most of it on a two hour plane ride from DCA to St. Louis.

It's my first significant "read" in terms of memorable books, of 2006...and I either loved it and think it's absolutely brilliant...or hated it and still think it's brilliant.

I'm not sure which one of those opinions I have. It's a very perplexing novel. The main character is more or less completely unlovable. And yet you can't help pulling for him a little bit. Life hasn't worked out very well for Lewis Miner and his story, told in a series of "updates" for his high school's alumni newsletter, dares to tell the truth - life doesn't always work out like we hoped. Lewis, aka "Teabag" has the gal to tell the truth, and almost nobody likes it. He's a loser in just about every way - at work, in his personal life, in his romantic life, etc. He is incredibly bitter about this, of course, and unafraid to get this bitterness across in his "updates."

There's a grain of universal truth in what he writes, however. When he chastises a woman who has done well for herself who refused to go to a dance with him and berrated him for asking her out (only to not remember him years later) and says "it was just a Halloween dance"...you hear the truth of it. When he tries to help his friend with his estranged parents, you feel he really is a good guy underneath. he's just not succeeding in life (in general). Lipsyte writes in a very familiar tone - one easily recognizable by anyone around my general age.

And yet...no matter how much you identify with the main character, there is also something very unsavory about his bitterness. You'd like to tell him to move on. In the end, when he appears to have made some very real progress (after a rather bizarre incident that serves as the novel's "climax" if you can call it that)...he still seems rather unlovable. You can understand him and not particularly like him...all at the same time.

Like I said...I'm not sure if I loved this novel or was indifferent...but I think it was brilliant. An important novel to read, for certain.

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