Debut sheaf of short stories by a minimalist in the style of Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish, master of the preshrunk sentence. Lipsyte no doubt will demonstrate greater range in years to come, but at the moment he shows off the prose equivalent of three chords on a one-string guitar—a feat of some kind. He has no qualms about hanging the reader up on a sentence whose sense has gone south, nor are his themes all that clear. One reads some of the pieces here wondering if they will come into focus before brain-fog sets in. Paradoxically, the surface of a Lipsyte story, paragraph by paragraph, looks as easily taken in as a telegram. In “Admiral of the Swiss Navy,” for example, a fat boy is so tormented one summer by fellow campers that he kills himself. Then the narrator tells us how he himself later gained weight and got picked on, perhaps as a means of assuaging his guilt. That much is subtle but clear. Much more is unclear: a severe diet, the beautiful and eager, semi-evil people out to destroy each other, how time passes swiftly while dieting. There’s no denying Lipsyte’s steel grip on language, and his ironies do hit home, if you can call a tone of half-smiling but unrelieved grievance-with-life a success.
Best moment: a druggie (in “Cremains”) shoots up a mix of morphine and his mother’s ashes.