I sound like the narrator of a mediocre young adult novel from the eighties. Which is, in fact, what I am.
There are far too few writers who dedicate themselves to documenting the plight of losers. Would it hurt anyone if the literary world gave the odd characters among us a little more shelf space? No. It might actually make the world a more accepting place. This is coming from someone who did not rank that high on the poll of public opinion in my formative years. Just call me Katherina, though I can assure you that is not what they called me. Unfortunately, the first syllable of my name rhymes with an insult and, frankly, small towns often breed even smaller minds (I did once mention I had a childhood worthy of the best soap opera). However, there are those authors who cater to the underdog without sugarcoating reality. Stephen King’s done IT. Donald Ray Pollack perfected it. In The Fun Parts, Sam Lipsyte satirizes it.
I don’t know that there is a single likeable character to be found in Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts. And that’s okay. Because in case you haven’t looked around, the world is populated with the dark, deranged, and absurd – it’s just not glamorized.
In Deniers, Lipsyte takes Mandy, your average dance instructor at the Jewish Community Center, gives her a traumatic childhood (complete with a suicidal parent), a serious crack addiction (is there any other kind?), and the ability to survive a survivor of the Holocaust (he had a rather nasty disposition he reserved for his daughter). He then pairs Mandy with Cal, a rather singular fellow who just won’t leave her alone. Why? It turns out Cal is attempting to reform his anti-Semitic ways.
“Are you even attracted to me?” Mandy asks him at one point. “Not in a healthy sense,” he answers. “I mean, I definitely went out of my way to find the cutest girl at the J.C.C.”
Not to spoil it for you, but they end up together.
In Nate’s Pain is Now, the protagonist is a recovering (when necessary) drug addict, who relapses to find the inspiration to write new sagas of degradation and epiphany. Naturally the public adores him – until they don’t. He has now been replaced (in popularity and preeminence) by his former assistant, Nate, a homeless gay punk. Not only has Nate usurped his audience, he stole his wife (as much as a gay man can, though he needs only to speak to please women (why yes, please is being used as a euphemism)). In a fax received from his father:
Not dead yet? Keep at it, kid. You had all these suckers fooled, but not me. How long did you think it would last?…When life knocks you down, don’t bother getting up. Because life will punish you for getting up. Life will bite your eyes out. Call me, Your Progenitor. P.S. Dinner?
The rest of the collection is filled with tales of the misbegotten and the woeful, the nihilistic and the damned. And wordplay. Because Lipsyte is nothing if not the master of word selection and placement…
The Fun Parts* is a stylistically admirable selection of short stories (many already featured elsewhere) that will make you laugh, if only so you don’t cry. Because ultimately the stories are tragic, though they told with a wickedly funny narration – tragically funny, if you will. However, if viewed with well seasoned perspective, these stories have happy endings. After all, no one dies – that’s something, right? Still not convinced? Addicts, infidels, idolaters, misguided genius (that’s anything but), and masochists don’t work for you?
Well, perspective. Fresh out, I take it?
*In the interest of transparency, I received a review copy of this novel from the publisher. It did not influence my opinion.