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THE SUBJECT STEVE by Sam Lipsyte

THE SUBJECT STEVE

By Sam Lipsyte

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2001
ISBN: 0-7679-0885-6
Publisher: Broadway

Lipsyte’s first novel follows his stack of short stories, Venus Drive (2000), which showed a steel grip on language but often added up to paragraphs of brain-fog.

Once again, but at greater length, Lipsyte handles the preshrunk sentence with the aplomb and dash of Gordon “Captain Fiction” Lish, king of the minimalists. Here, he hurtles into the long form with a theme worthy of Kafka or Beckett, then just hurtles without his theme acquiring any sort of depth or richness. His opening pages show such talent and strength that one draws back from giving the complete work the huge sigh of vexation it probably deserves—though Lipsyte’s fans may well enough hail this fiasco as a triumph. “Steve,” whose name is not Steve, is given some bad news by his doctors Goldfarb the Philosopher and Blackstone the Mechanic, two luminous nutcases who might have been cloned from weirdo docs in Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. Steve has a nameless and unique fatal illness unlike any ever known to medical science—dubbed by the good docs as Goldfarb-Blackstone Preparatory Extinction Syndrome (which, “though now named, still has no identifiable cause, which does not mitigate its unquestionable fatality. This man is going to die. But here’s the kicker: he’s going to die for no known reason”). The story thus far holds up brilliantly. But when Steve goes off to Dr. Heinrich’s Center for Nondenominational Recovery and Redemption, it doesn’t so much grow as become pinned-together pages of uninspired burlesque and pale farce. One wants a strong theme, a big chord, something to hold interest—but gets only battered logic in shipshape language.

Like nonalcoholic beer or wine: a nice taste but the elevator never rises.