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Home Land

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What if somebody finally wrote to his high school alumni bulletin and told...the truth! Home Land is a brilliant work from novelist Sam Lipsyte, whom Jeffrey Eugenides calls "original, devious, and very funny" and of whose first novel Chuck Palahniuk wrote, "I laughed out loud--and I never laugh out loud."

The Eastern Valley High School Alumni newsletter, Catamount Notes, is bursting with tales of former students include a bankable politician and a famous baseball star, not to mention a major-label recording artist. Then there is the appalling, yet utterly lovable, Lewis Miner, class of '89--a.k.a Teabag--who did not pan out. Home Land is his confession in all its bitter, lovelorn glory.

Winner of the Believer Book Award
New York Times Notable Book of the Year

229 pages, Paperback

First published February 16, 2004

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About the author

Sam Lipsyte

32 books550 followers
Sam Lipsyte was born in 1968. He is the author of the story collection Venus Drive (named one of the top twenty-five book of its year by the Village Voice Supplement) and the novels The Subject of Steve and Home Land, winner of the Believer Book Award. Lipsyte teaches at Columbia Universitys School of The Arts and is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow. He lives in Manhattan.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 389 reviews
Profile Image for Melki.
6,044 reviews2,390 followers
January 6, 2016
Just like those ubiquitous Christmas newsletters that seem like so much bragging where you only ever hear about the GOOD THINGS that happen, relentlessly cheery alumni newsletters are only telling you HALF the story. I mean, not everybody can turn out to be a big success after graduation, right? Each class has to have some losers.

Meet Lewis Miner, aka "Teabag." Still hanging around town. Still single. Still marginally employed.

And now he's telling it like it is in the Catamount Notes alumni newsletter.

Like last year's The Relic Master: A Novel, this is another one of those disconcerting novels I should have loved, but I just didn't. It's frequently hilarious and incredibly well written. Listen to one of Lewis's rants:

Sometimes, alums, I'll be walking down the street, catch myself chanting softly, "Blow my friggin' head off, blow my goddamn friggin' head off."
Doesn't everybody, Catamounts?
The voices, I figure they're just a kind of role call, a homeroom attendance of the soul. Delusional Confidence? Here. Underlying Sense of Worthlessness? Here. Cycle of Emotional Abuse? Step off, motherfucker!

There were some really, REALLY funny lines, and terrific laugh-out-loud stuff here . Yet, the whole thing seemed empty and somehow incohesive. Reading it became a chore that I put off for those last few minutes of the day before slumber takes over.

Near the end of the book, the Catamounts attend a bizarre class reunion called the "Togethering," and our man, Lewis makes a fantastic speech, a speech that rivals the commencement address that Kurt Vonnegut never gave - http://scripting.com/specials/commenc.... Lewis's speech includes the brilliant line - "If you can't say anything nice, you're beginning to see the bigger picture." But, it was too little, too late.

However, like my pal, Brian mentions in his review -
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show..., things that don't work in a novel may serve perfectly for a short story, so I'll be giving one of Lipsyte's collections a read later this year.

Talent like this cannot be ignored.
Profile Image for eb.
481 reviews154 followers
May 6, 2009
The waste of talent on display here makes me angry. Lipsyte has chops for weeks, but he uses them not to tell a story, or create actual characters, but to show off, and show off, and show off. The dialogue is snappy. The setups are unique. The anguish is convincing. But Lipsyte cares so little about his characters that it's impossible to keep them straight, much less feel anything when their heads get bashed in with maces. And he cares even less about story. Page after perfectly calibrated page goes by, and it's all so boring.

Yes, I get it that Teabag is a masturbatory, self-loathing, do-nothing protagonist. But does the novel have to share all of those qualities with its antihero? I don't think it does.

Profile Image for Brian.
Author 1 book1,027 followers
March 22, 2013
If brevity is the soul of wit, then pithiness is the essence of satire.

Sam Lipsyte has the chops. He can definitely write - his dialogue is sharp, his prose is snappy and yes, he can elicit true LOL moments like few other authors. But holding together an epistolary satiric tour de force for 220 pages is like watching your favorite stand-up comedian do a 7 hour set. The center won't hold, and when all of the characters have similarly brilliant and hilarious rejoinders, something's got to give.

I am very interested in reading Lipsyte's short fiction. I get the feeling that his brilliance works best in that format (See: Jim Shepard, Charles Baxter) and for the same reason why his novel sagged at parts (for me) his stories will shine for their pith.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 21 books291 followers
June 26, 2007
There are two kinds of readers in this country: those who know that Sam Lipsyte is the funniest writer of his generation and those who haven’t read him yet.

Lipsyte’s new novel Home Land is the epistolary tale of Lewis Miner, aka Teabag, a freelance writer of bogus FunFacts and self-appointed chronicler of the strange fates that have befallen the Catamounts of Eastern Valley High. The novel is written as a series of updates to the alumni newsletter, but in Lipsyte’s capable hands the form is flexible enough to encompass not only Teabag’s travails but those of his tough-talking caterer father, his starfucked ex-girlfriend, his best friend’s drug-dealing AA sponsor, the B&D-obsessed high school principal, a coke-happy novelist of significant renown, a former leg-warmer-wearing member of the dance squad that Teabag has never managed to bring himself to stop masturbating to, and uptight-student-body-president-turned-uptight-Doctor Stacy Ryson. This may strike newcomers to Lipsyte’s fiction as strange, perhaps excessively so, but for long-time fans, Home Land is the apotheosis of a remarkable, yet under-appreciated, career.

The tension in Lipsyte’s fiction comes from the relationship between the two losers at the heart of the narrative who are linked for the sole reason that no one else will have anything to do with them.

This would be heartbreaking if it wasn’t so hilarious. Or maybe it’s the other way around, but it’s precisely this tension that drives the prose. Lipsyte will take your imagination to some dark places, but he’ll make you laugh, and you’ll be laughing at things you probably wouldn’t be laughing at if someone were looking over your shoulder.

(Excerpted from a review that appeared on The Elegant Variation:

134 reviews200 followers
March 9, 2010
God damned brilliant.

I wish there were more books like this--literary comedies that are at once laugh-out-loud funny, phraseologically intricate, and resonant on the level of the emotions and the psychology and the whatnot. Let's face it, Catamounts: most good writers aren't funny, and most funny people couldn't write a novel any more than some non-funny schmo like me could.

But this guy Sam Lipsyte, damn. He is the total package. And in Home Land, he's written a book that kinda needed to exist.

This novel covers a lot of thematic ground. Some would say its central concern is disappointment. I actually think the book is mainly about high school. It's just that it's set 15 years after high school ended. And therein lies the "needed to exist" part. High school is a topic that has been exhausted as a narrative resource. Our culture is forever fascinated by high school, from I Was a Teenage Werewolf to John Hughes to that dumb-ass show about the school chorus that is popular right now. But all that shit takes place during the actual four years of high school. Boring! Sam Lipsyte understands that those of us consuming and producing all these high-school narratives are, necessarily, most of us no longer in high school. We are obsessed with it because it's something in our past that has never really left us. I think that's true regardless of whether your high school experience was "the best years of your life" (cliché), or the polar opposite (countercliché, thanks for that one Rick Linklater). Those years are so formative, and the experiences we have during that time have this almost surreal quality of being at once part of an alien, separate life (the no-man's-land between childhood and adulthood) and also kind of still feeling like the default setting of life in a weird way that's hard to explain, like everything else has been an extended postscript, or a head-desk daydream during trigonometry.

Anyway, Sam Lipsyte gets this stuff, even if I don't. Home Land is about a 30-something slacker (known as "Teabag," for reasons that have to do with a high school locker room incident) still hanging around his old hometown, and everything that happens in the book is basically either a recollection of high school or a present encounter with people he knew in high school. Among the latter, my favorites were Teabag's run-ins with his old HS principal, who is like Mr. Belding from "Saved by the Bell" reimagined as a tragic boozehound--in that he is hilariously unrealistically over-involved in the lives of his students. Or at least in Teabag's life. For instance, the principal is engaged in a kinky affair with the wife of a local drug dealer who is also the AA sponsor of Teabag's best friend, who got rich by suing a psychotherapist for convincing him that he was sexually abused when he in fact wasn't. And the dealer wants the principal dead. If this sounds like melodrama, or screwball comedy, it's neither. Lipsyte is just interested in shiftless fuckarounds and the high school history that unites them. The tragicomic meaninglessness of it all, the strange and disappointing paths our lives take--it all starts in high school.

But the best thing about the book, really, the reason to read it even if everything I just wrote makes you want to gag, is the voice. It's indescribable, completely original as far as I can tell. The chapters are ostensibly "updates" written by Teabag for his high school's alumni newsletter, and within that format Lipsyte fashions an incredibly specific tone that incorporates irony, dazzling verbal wit, (pseudo)philosophical declamations, and an almost Greek chorus-like sense of tragic understanding. I don't know, I'm standing by "indescribable" because that description wasn't very good. But this book is written in the most spectacularly exciting voice I've read in some time.

My only problem with Lipsyte here is that he sometimes uses bizarre sexuality as a crutch. It's this weird thing that some male writers of a certain demographic have...Jonathan Ames does it too, there's that ridiculously extraneous and awful sex scene that he made the centerpiece of the otherwise great novel Wake Up, Sir!. Don't get me wrong, Teabag's leg-warmer fetishism was funny. But the book goes to some self-consciously EDGY places with some sex scenes that don't really add anything. But you know what? Still five stars! That's how much I dig this book.

Can't wait to read his other shit, including that new one, The Ask, as soon as I finish this pile of non-funny books I'm reading...or probably before I finish that pile.
Profile Image for Shya.
Author 14 books47 followers
August 3, 2009
Lipsyte is a master of the sentence. Like his fellow Lish-learned sentence experts (Gary Lutz, Barry Hannah, Dawn Raffel, Noy Holland, etc, etc, etc), Lipsyte pays extreme attention to the cadence, sounds, and layers of meaning in his language. When reviewing Home Land, one has the urge to simply create a list of the many wonderful lines between its covers. But that would not fairly represent the other most impressive quality of Lipsyte's prose: its humor. And this is where Lipsyte stands apart from many of his peers (not that they lack humor: Joy Williams, George Saunders, Barry Hannah, even Diane Williams--though I had to hear her read her work out loud before I understood this dimension fully--and others certainly expose excellent, finely-tuned senses of humor): none save George Saunders goes so mercilessly for laughs--both high and low. Lipsyte's unique combination, then, of gorgeous and hilarious prose make his work, and in particular Home Land, a rewarding experience.

In Home Land, Lipsyte he uses a first person voice almost as relentless as that of Thomas Bernhard (though with paragraph breaks, thank heaven), to describe the thoughts and travails of a self-important, insightful but ultimately slovenly and ridiculous man nicknamed Teabag (you'll have to read to find out why, though you can probably guess). The "arc" of this book, if you can call it that, begins with Teabag's decision to begin sending in updates to the weekly publication of his high school, and it follows these updates as they get him entangled in other people's lives. It was hard for me to read about Teabag without thinking of Ignatius Jacques Reilly, from John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize winning A Confederacy of Dunces. Both are extremely hapless, self-indulgent buffoons. They're also both charming despite themselves. Flawed, smart, lonely and hilarious, it's hard not to feel some immediate kinship with them.

And as in A Confederacy, what "happens" to Teabag is usually the result of external forces--he evinces very little agency throughout the book, bumping instead off of various people whose own trajectories are themselves caused by things beyond their control, ad nauseum. Indeed, one of the themes of the novel seems to be how little control we have over our lives, or at least how little control we *take* over them. I add this qualification because the book does, in the end, succumb to a kind of traditional epiphanic structure (which I found a little disappointing, frankly).

The book was generally a joy to read--Lipsyte's skills are, especially for this writer, not a little enviable--but part of what makes it such a joy to read from page to page, limited it, I think, in terms of overall impact. Going for each joke, and muscling as many sentences as possible into elaborate thrill rides of syntax and sound, while fun at the time, in the end deflates tension and narrative drive. Upon finishing the book, though I recalled having laughed and admired by way through innumerable passages, what I was left with was really only a kind of vague, blurry impression of what I'd read. This is probably my own fault--maybe a more adroit reader would have no trouble parsing the passages in her memory. But I found myself wishing he'd sacrificed some of the pyrotechnics along the way, so that the finale could have been more powerful and impressive.
Profile Image for Youndyc.
134 reviews
April 5, 2010
Well, Catamounts, I cannot say why I finished this book. Perhaps it had to do with the length or sheer stubborness, or perhaps because I was proscratinating to avoid the steaming turdpile of work I needed to do. Or perhaps it was destiny, that horrible sense that I couldn't do anything but finish this book.

And if you liked that brief review, you will love this book, especially if you mentally edit my brief review to contain a great deal of profanity, masturbation references, and dope-smoking - because, my friends, that's pretty much the content of this book.

Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews899 followers
December 28, 2010
There were times I actually laughed OL. That’s really saying something when a book can do that to a middle-aged guy on a commuter train before his second cup. Every other page had something to smile at, whether it was self-mocking slacker wisdom or just plain funny ways of putting things. (E.g., Each of us walks to the beat of a different drummer. It’s just that some of these drummers suck.) You don’t read something like this for its plot, but the wry snippets and acerbic social scrutiny made for a consistently entertaining theme. As I was looking up the “different drummer” quote I stumbled onto The Village Voice review that made an astute observation: the narrator is the kind of guy who points out not only that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, but that he’s really let himself go.
Profile Image for Gloria.
294 reviews26 followers
July 17, 2011
Well, it's been awhile since my last "bailed-on-it" offering. Guess it was time.

This book got so many great reviews (including one from Chuck Palahniuk), and the premise of it sounded amusing. It wasn't.

Remember that guy in high school who was, yes, intelligent, but never really quite fit in? You saw him at the 5 year reunion and he had this major chip on his shoulder surrounding those high school days. Another several years and a few more reunions later, that chip has turned into the Rock of Gilbraltar with a "F**k you" neon sign glowing at the summit.
Welcome to the main character here.

I already know too many of those guys who think they're funnier than they actually are, and use their misplaced intelligence for acerbic commentary on that which they say they disdain-- but, seemingly, still long for.

Moving on to my next book.
Profile Image for Adam.
558 reviews360 followers
November 18, 2010
Homeland is Sam Lipsyte at his most baroque twisted hilarity. An epistolary novel straight from hell (I’m pretty sure no one was worried about that form, but is in fine health here if you can call any of this healthy) this features some eccentric ranting and raving, you will love and fear Lewis “Teabag” Miner and his Classmates (“Catamounts”). This is a satire featuring a lot of emotion along with its rage and blistering wit and an unusually strong set of characters and remains stylistically fresh throughout. So this wins on all fronts. Recommend for anyone willing to look the absurdity and ugliness of America in its hilarious face. My favorite funny writer of this generation.
Profile Image for Lemar.
672 reviews56 followers
August 13, 2016
Does this apply to our times? "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to corner the market on fish and be thankful for the small acts of philanthropy he may perform while depriving most of the world of fish."
Biting, gleeful and self-deprecating humor shoulder the load of a deep and honest examination of life in America circa now. Employing a technique that frames the novel as a series of submissions to that most vainglorious and banal of publications, the Class Notes' section of a high school alumni magazine, Sam Lipsyte dares to get real. Our hero Lewis is some 20 years out of high school now and wonders if he is chasing, "that pitiful grail, the absence of pain." He is fighting the good fight though, "I still detested tongue-clickers, safety fetishists, comfort-food fucks, even as I sensed myself sliding toward those soft kingdoms."
The Class Notes thing oddly does not get old. I root for Lewis Miner. Reading Home Land, "I knew I was in the vicinity of a serious lesson, if not about how to live life, then at least how to put some poetry into your craven retreat from it."
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,115 followers
January 3, 2017
I dunno. I've really liked other books by Sam Lipsyte, but I found this one repetitive and frustrating. I may have just not been in the right place for it, but I won't be going back. One friend recommended that I *not* read it, and she was right! I swear the author has made me laugh though. Try The Fun Parts or The Ask instead of this one.
Profile Image for Beth.
231 reviews4 followers
April 17, 2018
Twisted and flawed, but still bright and entertaining. Like all the truths you always wished to speak to people you despised. Including yourself.

Lewis is the kind of narrator you want to hate because he's a bit of a creep. But he'd probably say that you were too so who are you to judge. And of all the unlikeable characters, he somehow manages to be the least so.

A short, light read well worth the time.
Profile Image for Tom.
Author 6 books192 followers
May 25, 2010
One of my flaws as a reader is that when I pick up a book that's touted as being side-splitting, hilarious, etc., I spend the first 40-50 pages finding everything about it that's not funny, thinking about how the jokes aren't working, and generally just not enjoying myself. I can't explain why I do this, although I do think a lot of allegedly funny authors just are not funny at all.

Point is, it took a while before I started laughing, because some of the attempts at humor just seem so badly strained-- he's trying so hard, sometimes, to be shocking and wild and outrageous, etc. and sometimes that just doesn't work for me. When the humor failed for me is when it seemed to be not natural or earned. There is some funny stuff too, but I found myself responding more favorably to the stuff that's really desperately sad; those moments when the narrator approaches sincerity and self-awareness and then lashes out.

The philosophical stuff that's happening in here, that mostly strikes me as kind of weak and not all that well-considered.

This is a pretty negative review, I guess, which maybe isn't fair because I did breeze through the book and found myself really interested in the whole unreliable narrator thing that's happening, and watching the narrator's life unfold in the train wreckiest way possible.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
228 reviews29 followers
April 10, 2010
I was really excited to read this book because the reviews all mentioned the off-the-wall narrative and hilarious point of view. And that aspect of the novel didn’t disappoint. But, otherwise I wasn’t crazy about this book. Maybe it was because not only could I not relate to the main character, Lewis Miner, AKA Teabag, but I didn’t like him at all.

Lewis is writing nonsensical, ridiculous and often offensive class notes for this high school’s newsletter. Of course they are not being published, so all his efforts are wasted. Which isn’t too surprising since his life is pretty much a waste as well. He’s unemployed, skipping out on his rent and desperately obsessed with his ex-girlfriend. His only friend Gary is a bigger loser than Lewis – Gary formerly accused his parents of abuse, but now has retracted and spends most of his days hanging out with his AA sponsor, who is also his dealer. Make sense? Don’t worry because it didn’t for me either.

There is a lot going on in this book and Lipsyte’s narrative can be awesomely funny. The narrative can also be pretty dirty and alarming, which for some reason makes it even funnier. But the truth is, I just didn’t care about Lewis or Gary or any of the other characters; I just kept reading for the off-the-wall commentary.
Profile Image for Jim Leckband.
714 reviews1 follower
June 18, 2012
Very funny book of a slacker in a northeastern suburb a few years after his high school graduation. The chapters are ostensibly his contributions to the Alumni Newsletter. These chapters of his life as he lives it and the characters he has surrounded himself with would never be printed in said newsletter as they are so over-the-top.

The hilariousness/sadness of this is reflected in the title of the book "Home Land". (I'm a sucker for ferreting out the larger significance in the naming of a book). Since this was written after 2001, "Home Land" obviously refers to the horribly named "Home Land Security" department. So what is Lipsyte saying with this?

My take is that he wants us to reflect on how life in our real-life "Home Land" (and he nails life as it is lived in America, especially suburbia) is very different than what we pretend it to be. We idealize this mythical "Home Land" where everybody is equal, rich, educated and happy. When in reality almost everybody seems to be addicted, broke, lazy and ill. The gap between these two realities is the gallows humor that Lipsyte is great at exploiting.
Profile Image for Heather.
55 reviews7 followers
August 11, 2010
i don't know if i'm just over holden caulfield or if sam lipsyte was only half paying attention when he wrote this. the blurbs on the inside cover make the comparison to salinger and it's easy to see why. there is absolutely no denying that lipsyte is smart, talented and can write some snappy dialoge, pinning down all the angst and horrible funny things that can happen in a day, or a lifetime. Lewis Miner,a.k.a. Teabag is supposed to be that lovable asshole. the guy that tells the truth, even when it's so ugly that hilarity is bound to ensue. some of it is really funny and there are a couple of poignant moments so maybe i was in a mood when i read this, or maybe i just didn't get the jokes. maybe i wasn't meant to. in a way, i felt like this was the male version of chick lit. you can only talk about boobies, leg-warmers and jerking-off for so many pages before i start to glaze over. i'm sure plenty of people will disagree with me on that one, and with that being said, i definitely know some guys in my life that would love this book.
Profile Image for Doug.
161 reviews17 followers
March 15, 2019
Rounding up from 3.5 on account of the excellent final chapter. This book is demented, ridiculous, over the top, at times painfully overwritten. It's also fucking hilarious. Best read in spurts - there's only so much bitterly dark humor one can reasonably handle in one sitting - Homeland delivers some exceptional insight on the human condition. Lewis "teabag" Miner may be one of the most depraved and miserable protagonists this side of Ignatius Reilly, but I'll be damned if he didn't have me nodding along at some of his zany, meandering, rants; grinning, grimacing, laughing, contemplating the absurdity of it all. In a tangled mess of fine passages one, for whatever reason, stood out to me more than the others; one I believe best represents the spirit of Homeland:

"I drove out to the cliffs, parked at a scenic overlook. Barges loaded with garbage chugged down the river. Sick-looking gulls swooped, cawed. Factories on the far bank blew black smoke into the sky. A perfect May day."

Yes, Catamounts, that about sums this one up.
Profile Image for Ryan Chapman.
Author 3 books259 followers
January 25, 2008
It's an unbeatable comic premise: Lewis Miner, aka Teabag, writes a series of updates to his high school alumni newsletter not to brag about his latest promotion or recent marriage, but to provide shockingly honest diatribes on how he "did not pan out." He writes with a sort of exhilarating looseness of language, a Humbert Humbert with not enough ambition and too much weed, that matches his outsized delusions of grandeur.

And while parts of the book are truly hilarious, the conceit is barely maintained after a couple chapters. Then it becomes any other contemporary novel about a witty loser in generic America. Could the author have kept up the narrow focus of the first chapter for an entire book? Maybe. It would have been damn difficult, and also much more rewarding. As it is now Home Land is very funny and a good read for the subway—I'm convinced Sam Lipstye has a masterpiece in him and I can't wait for it to come out.
Profile Image for Victoria.
2,512 reviews55 followers
December 19, 2012
Oh! I REALLY liked this book! It was very original and had such a strong narrative presence! Though it was pretty dark, and rather bitter, it amounted to a surprisingly hysterical book. I found it really funny - though a bit disgusting in parts. I hope that my fiance will read this because the whole time I read it, I kept thinking of how he would find this even funnier than I did. The book had many great lines and was just terrific! I think that anyone who went to a public school in the suburbs will recognize aspects of this book. Fontana, towards the end, somehow started to remind me of a degenerate Mr. Belding... And who doesn’t love to be reminded of Saved By The Bell? I will definitely read his other books!
Profile Image for Jonathan.
Author 11 books113 followers
October 24, 2007
There are parts of this book that convinced me that Lipsyte is a genius, that's how funny it can be. But I found that halfway through, I had zero interest in the story at all, and was reading solely for the jokes (The good news is that there are a lot of amazing jokes). The end salvaged a lot of that for me, the final rant is hilarious and pointed, and the final chapter managed a degree of actual human sadness that I liked.
Profile Image for John Blumenthal.
Author 13 books100 followers
January 22, 2015
I loved the concept behind "Home Land" -- a down-and-out alumnus of a high school writes bulletins to his high school newsletter, mocking and insulting fellow students as well as the administration, especially the principal, and details the dismal failure of his life. The style of the writing is hip and funny. But there's' no plot and the narrator is way too relentlessly whiny and cynical. As a result, I just couldn't finish it.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,067 reviews35 followers
August 13, 2017
Line by line Lipsyte is obscene, snarky, exact, and brilliant. He throws out spot-on observations and acidic one-liners at a positively indecent rate. His short stories and articles play to his strengths; he can blaze away and quit while he's still ahead. Not so in a novel, alas. Plotting has never been Lipsyte's strong point, hence the crushing feeling of reading the same chapter several dozen times.
Profile Image for Alvin.
Author 7 books125 followers
April 15, 2011
There's not much plot here, but the smart-alecky, dyspeptic narrator of the morbidly hilarious novel is so fascinating one hardly notices. Lipsyte's command of language is astounding and delightful, though I fear he's so much smarter than me I sometimes wasn't sure what was going on. I didn't care though, because he was delivering wit by the bucketload.
Profile Image for Robert.
Author 14 books102 followers
June 27, 2013
Homeland by Sam Lypsyte raises the question, for me at least, of whether it is wise to be part of a reading group. I would not have read this novel if it weren't proposed by the guy who had the choice of what we'd take up next, and after fifteen pages I began considering whether I should stop reading the book and stop going to the reading group altogether.

To take the latter point first--droping out of the reading group--I should note that I am a particular reader who does his best to find good books that meet his particular interests and needs. I should also add that when I "worked" for a living before transitioning to writing full-time, I had to read thousands of pages of stuff every year that I didn't especially want to read (though sometimes it was interesting.) Now I don't do anything I don't want to do, and that includes reading things people tell me I ought to read or would love to read. I might love reading it, or I might not, or I might be pursuing a reading agenda that I have loosely mapped out for myself months in advance. In other words, what I read is mine, and I can't read everything, so I read what I want and as and when I want to read it.

This extends to the way I read newspapers. Once upon a time I read five or six newspapers every morning as part of my job; then I would be briefed by one of my assistants who had done the same and we would compare notes on what we thought was important and what wasn't important. This went on for years in various countries around the world. Now I look at the front page and sports page of one newspaper and periodiodically check the web page of the New York Times for updates through the course of the day. On Sundays the massive New York Times and just as massive Washington Post arrive on my driveway. The Post comes in a clear plastic bag, the Times comes in a blue plastic bag I look at their front pages and turn them over to my wife. For days she tries to catch up with them, bringing Thoreau to mind: he said he'd need a week to read a newspaper properly. Well, I don't have a week for that sort of thing anymore. Supplementing whatever I miss by limiting my newspaper intake, I receive ten to fifteen emails a day from various sources, all pointing me toward world affairs. I glance at them, sometimes I read them in full, sometimes I push the trash button in less than a second.

What I really want to read are the specific books I choose to read. Books are infinitely more rewarding, challenging, and memorable than the news, or "articles," or news summaries. They brave the difficulty of dealing with a subject in depth; the demonstrate, or try to, a command of a subject, factual or fictional. They are the product of a writer's personal style and worldview, not the style and worldview (and style book) of a news organization.

So when a friend with whom I have long discussed books asked if I would like to join a new reading group he and some others were forming, I said, with some trepidation, okay, I'd give it a try.

As a writer I was interested in how these guys reacted to writing, what they valued, what they questioned, and what they found that resonated in their own lives. I didn't foresee Homeland by Sam Lypsyte coming down the pike.

This is a satirical novel that is firmly embedded in the culture it satirizes, i.e., cosmic New Jersey suburbia (New Jersey is the world, didn't you know that?). The trope--which is a fancy way of saying the hackneyed concept--has to do with a loser who was miserable in high school being encouraged to contribute notes to his high school class alumni newsletter. Our anti-hero, known unpleasantly as Teabag, is witty, perceptive, and hot on the trail of the hypocrites who somehow got up on him back then…and still do. The opening chapters read like a stand-up comic's endless act.

So I put the book aside and came back to it when I'd simmered down. This seemed to make Homeland easier to take. Fragments of characters episodically matter and are not stereotypes. Some descriptive writing focused on the dead birds in the gutters and the armpit stink of someone's basement apartment bespeak a certain grisly humor. But who was it who wrote about quiet desperation? Ah, Thoreau again: ""Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Here we have it; not as a lament, though, as a farce. This isn't a book about adolescence (and post-adolescence) as painfully honest as Catcher in the Rye. It certainly isn't a book as beautifully tragic as Billy Budd. It's a book disturbingly gifted in eliciting the jargon-filled, drug-induced, sexually-confused, ambition-craven qualities of our good old U.S.A., circa 21st century.

So, hell, as it is by now clear, I finished Homeland, and as I anticipated, there was a semi-apocalyptic comeuppance at the end and, trope of all tropes, a squeak of sincere candor implying that all the rage, all the wrongs, all the schlock, all the betrayals, all the ferociously wound-up linguistic energy herein presented had to do with something hard to believe in anymore: love.

Aha, so that's what this was all about? Well, not quite. To give Homeland perhaps an excess of credit, let me conclude by aligning it one more time with Thoreau: "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth." Lypsyte, it seems to me, can't pull this book out of its nosedive on the very last page. One can see him edging in that direction with some of Teabag's wittticisms and actions in the final chapters, but if you're going to be a satirist, be one until the end. The world of Homeland is not a world of distorted, dysfunctional love; it's a world of lost souls living atomized lives of noisy, rather repugnant desperation.

For more of my comments on contemporary writing, see Tuppence Reviews (Kindle).
Profile Image for Mckochan.
505 reviews
March 16, 2021
The narrator’s nickname is Teabag. And that about sums up why this book is not for me.
Profile Image for Anne McAneny.
Author 11 books96 followers
March 27, 2013
I loved this book. It's told from the perspective of a former, somewhat bullied high school boy who, at age 30 or so, is sending updates to his high school newsletter. The honesty (or total fabrication -- one never knows) of the updates is refreshing and hilarious. If not for the comedic aspect, it might come across as sad, but Sam Lipsyte knows exactly how to deliver the right balance of self-deprecation from the protagonist, as well as make us appreciate his astute observations and high level of intelligence. The dryness with which he delivers the protagonist's descriptions of his shallow high school classmates is hilarious, and there is not a single line of this book that is predictable!

Be warned, though, I think you have to possess a slightly warped sense of humor to like this book. Also, it's a bit hard to keep track of some of the characters because Lipsyte refers to them by their names, their nicknames, or their claims to fame at various times, but even when I wasn't always sure who he was talking about for a few paragraphs, I sat back and enjoyed the cutting dialogue and descriptions. Be prepared to look up the definitions of a few words, too. Lipsyte sports quite the vocabulary.

I'll be reading more from Sam Lipsyte!
Profile Image for Dara Salley.
397 reviews4 followers
June 21, 2011
I almost gave this book 3 stars. 2.5 would be the ideal rating. What I didn’t like about this book was the writing style. It just didn’t speak to me. From a dispassionate standpoint I could see that the writing was skillful, but I still didn’t enjoy it. What I did like about this book was that it was about a failed and disappointed life. I enjoy reading about people whose lives didn’t turn out the way they wanted them to. I think it’s truer than an uplifting story. It’s possible that this book went over my head, or it may have been too depressing, even for me. Even though I didn’t like this book I still plan to give LIpsyte’s longer novel The Ask a try

“… I’ve been to the edge of the abyss on more than one unsavory occasion. The view down is darkly steep and scary, a chilling reminder that there is, in fact, an abyss. The wise turn tail, fly home, buy nachos, lime-infused. I count myself among the wise.” P.3

“If I’ve learned anything it’s that you must bide your time until your time comes, knowing full well, of course, your time may never come. That’s the bitch about biding it.” P. 61
Profile Image for Tung.
630 reviews40 followers
January 10, 2008
This book focuses on a loser ten years removed from high school, and his struggle with drugs and not having any life ten years later. The principal of his school and former members of his graduating class form the rest of the main characters. The prose is told as a series of fictional letters to the school alumni bulletin, but is just a different take on conventional first-person memoir narratives. As a strung-out loser, the prose ranges from longwinded rants about nothing to surreal wordplay (Random sentences like “Don’t wash buck turtles” or “I want to fly on the moon with wings made of recycled love”). Overall, I didn’t find it very good. The main character is so completely unlikable, that when the obvious redemption moment for him comes (at the class ten year reunion, of course) it loses any sense of climax. There have been plenty of books about life after high school, the disillusionment of this generation of kids, and drug lives of young people that are just much better than this. Pass on this one.
Profile Image for Beckie.
165 reviews5 followers
December 23, 2013
i really should have known better than to pick this book up, given that its most fervent admirers compared it to a confederacy of dunces, which i hated. i think i've lost my ability to browse for books, though. the reason i found myself with nothing to read was that i was down to only one book request at the library. when i went to get some new things to read i ended up wandering the stacks, wondering how i ever found good books to read by myself. in desperation, i picked up anything i remembered hearing about, although i think in the case of one of the other books i got, i'd heard bad things. i'm fairly ashamed of this, so i definitely need more practice at browsing the stacks. anyway, this doesn't get a whole number because i only read long enough to get through a session at the gym, since i didn't hate it more than i hate exercising without distraction. if you liked a confederacy of dunces, i could probably recommend it to you, still.
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