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The Subject Steve

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  660 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
Meet Steve (not his real name), a Special Case, in truth a Terminal Case, and the eponymous antihero of Sam Lipsyte's first novel. Steve has been informed by two doctors that he is dying of a condition of unquestioned fatality, with no discernible physical cause. Eager for fame, and to brand the new plague, they dub it Goldfarb-Blackstone Preparatory Extinction Syndrome, o ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Picador (first published September 11th 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Samara Steele
Mar 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A few weeks ago, a musician friend of mine was strolling through San Francisco with a recording device in his pocket, occasionally turning it on to capture street noise to splice into electronic music.

Down the street, a woman and man were arguing loudly, attracting a crowd. "Jackpot," the musician thought, and turned on the recorder.

Listening to the rise and fall of the couple's fiery voices, he thought about how he would sync them with a beat, speed them up, slow them down, make them something
Lipsyte gets an accusation of writing great sentences and comic rants rather than novels. Never is this criticism more accurate than here for his first novel, which has an intriguing central concept that a more focused writer of existential musings would work the whole book around, but Lipsyte uses it as an opening salvo and then as an occasional echo that surfaces throughout all the noise. But, what noise! Medical industry, cults, dot com start ups, reality TV and a cast of nymphomaniacs, cokeh ...more
Nov 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
New favorite author time! Sam Lipsyte is a master of poetry, brevity and snarky dialogue. And laughs a-bucket! I only wish I hadn't read this with strep throat because all that laughter hurt like razorblades. But actually that suits the book well, since it's about the comedy of terminal illness.

The narrative floats on a tone of Beckett-style high absurdity, the smugness of the narrator in constant conflict with his supposed onrushing death. The central question is, is he really dying or does he
Eric T. Voigt
May 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spring-twelve
At the start this was paled by the light of "Venus Drive." Then, as the jokes that seemed more obvious were repeated til they found their meaning twisted and darkened and the characters grew into people you could believe in and people you wish you couldn't and the 'fuckedness' of Steve was realized the reading of this novel turned into a fulfilling experience and Sam Lipsyte turned more thickly into one of my favorite authors. Kooky off the walls bananas, this book. I'm thinking I'm gonna give a ...more
Mar 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Satire is the word of the day when it comes to Sam Lipsyte. Satire, sure. Fine. But a love of language is what I come away with when I read Lipsyte.

I'm always reluctant to take up review space with summarizing the plot because, ya know, you can just read the summary above. But anyway, the main character, whose name may or may not be Steve, is diagnosed with a "fantastically new" disease, which the reader comes to assume, or I came to assume, is just Death, like how we're all dying, in some sens
Adrianne Mathiowetz
Reading this book is exactly like doing mushrooms.

Things start out crazy, but in a fun, innocent way. A little off! Goofy! Parable-y! "Wheee!" You say, "This is fun!" You don't quite grasp everything you encounter, but you don't mind too much, either, and every now and then the light shines a certain way, and you're like "oh my god, that is so TRUE and BEAUTIFUL, I need to REMEMBER that".

So you keep trucking along, peeling that orange and becoming convinced it's a living animal and you've decon
Justin Evans
Jan 31, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I read this because reviews of The Ask were so good, and I found it for a dollar. The NYTimes says it's a book "about morality." The San Fran Chronicle says it is "satire with a capital 'S'". Reviewers on goodreads mention Lipsyte's love of language.

Well, I guess that's all partially true of parts of the book. But not really. It's all kind of generic, in fact. The language is the same tired 'acidic prose' cooked up in writing workshops all over the world. You know the stuff. Intentional repetit
Read the STOP SMILING interview with Sam Lipsyte:

Face to Face: Sam Lipsyte
by Alex Abramovich

(This interview appeared in the STOP SMILING Photography Issue)

Alex Abramovich: Let’s talk about Martin Amis. The Moronic Inferno and Money seem like Amis’ first and last words on America. Is Amis being unfair to America? Is America unfair to us?

Sam Lipsyte: I can’t say I’ve really thought about your question before. I don’t really experience the majority of my days as a negotiation between these two enti
Brien Piechos
I have recently become a huge Lipsyte fan but this, I believe his first novel, doesn't have the depth in the voice on his narrator I have come to enjoy from him, which is doubly disappointing because in his more recent work he even manages to fill the narrators of his short stories with a ton of substance. If you enjoyed Paul Nielan's "Apathy and Other Small Victories" this is a better version of that, IMO, and you'll enjoy it more. Although the plot is not the same, the nameless narrator has th ...more
Oct 11, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
One of the promotional blurbs on the back of my copy of this book (from Esquire, as it turns out) compares Lipsyte to Chuck Palahniuk, George Saunders, Kurt Vonnegut, and Thomas Pynchon.

Not so much.

This is one of those books where I can see the promise of the author, and I can see why people might enjoy it, and there are certainly parts I enjoyed (and found funny), but overall, it really didn't come together for me into an enjoyable whole in the same way that Saunders or Vonnegut does--perhaps
Thomas A Wiebe
Post-modern tale of morality.   This novel is satirical, modern, often mocking the post-modern, with echoes of Kafka, only not so morose.  There is a lot of Heller, that is, it is an off-balance story with a good deal of wit, constant word play, and sharp observations that rush at you, with overlapping cultural references, many twenty-first century, but some from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, also. Some of it is laugh-out-loud funny.

All in all, a bit uneven, also like Heller, but defi

Jul 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite not liking this book quite as much as The Ask, Lipsyte's most recent novel, I had to give it four stars as well. How can you not when a book makes you laugh out loud dozens of times? A bit choppier with less fully defined characters, The Subject Steve chronicles Steve's (not his real name) battle with a deadly disease that no one has ever had before. His disease makes him a celebrity, or perhaps celebrity makes him diseased? Anyway, we follow Steve from initial diagnosis through through ...more
As much as I loved Home Land, the beginning of this book is not drawing me in and I am going to put it back as "to-read" and try to finish one of the bazillion books I really am all the way in the middle of. It's not really like me to have all these books half-read, but then again, never before have I had a shelf full (two rows, even!) of books I have yet to read (and two borrowed from Gina, and three still to read from Marianne, and one from Jay). This one's gonna have to wait. I keep being rea ...more
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
- ...stumbled upon a very positive review on the (usually trustworthy) Guardian Unlimited Books website. The line that snagged me was "It is reminiscent of Douglas Coupland in its authorial style, and contains echoes of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius in its use, or mockery, of audience-reader interaction." BOTH WRITERS SHOULD SUE! Aside from the original premise of the protagonist being diagnosed with a terminal illness (the first case ever) terminal boredom; and a few sn ...more
Jul 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book has some great absurdity and some wonderful lines. I do have to say that I enjoyed the bits outside Heinrich and his crew (whether in the compound stage or in the media production stage) more than the Heinrich and crew portions. Those portions were just so ridiculous as to be a bit over the top. I mean, the absurdity in the other portions came through better because of the juxtaposition to expectations and reason. The Heinrich and crew portions just didn't seem as funny or absurd becau ...more
May 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm writing this little mini review of Sam Lipsyte's The Subject Steve about 13 years after reading it. This was a seminal book for me at the end of high school. It was one of the rare books I actually enjoyed during high school, and one of the extra rare books that i read on my own and not for class. Basically I had only read old classics or modern classics from the '60s at the point of my life back in the '90s. So when I read the Subject Steve, and experienced its stinging satirical look at li ...more
Brent Legault
Dec 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the bleached teeth, the smling eyes
I'm still laughing two or three years after reading this one. I'm laughing with the book, not against it. I laughed later when I reread it. I laughed again when I thought of reading it a third time but did not. I'm resisting but ultimately failing to resist a reference to that old "laughter is the best medicine" claptrap. I laugh, furthermore, whenever I imagine that I'm sick with some ill-defined disease. The only unfunny thing about the book is the cover which is a tad too austere for what's i ...more
Jan 19, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Although Sam Lipsyte's talent is well on display here, the last third of the book was a struggle to get through. The long-winded monologues and conversations of the characters, though funny in effect and theory, became incredibly tedious and boring about half way through the book. I also felt that rather than each character having his or her own voice, they all spoke in the same voice and therefore were incredibly difficult to keep track of.
It was a very clever idea, but not terribly well execu
Joseph Michael Owens
I'm actually giving this book 3.5 stars. I think the writing is really great and really snappy, but the plot is sort of disjointed. Though the plot is intended to be disjointed, I found that when I'd come back to it after a day or two of reading something else, I'd feel a little lost in the narrative and have to go back and read to figure out where I was. I've heard this book described as a condensed version of D. F. Wallace's "Infinite Jest" which, while I indeed can see the comparison, I don't ...more
Peter Knox
Mar 16, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Me: but subject steve was really too loose for me. i liked homeland
but SS wasn't my cup.
wgrofic: i loved subject steve
me: i know. also why i bought it. didn't like it.
wgrofic: reminds me of a boring summer i interned for bureau labor of statitistics. is just very unhinged in best way.
me: douglas coupland did better when he did All Families Are Psychotic. too unhinged. i just remember his advice about writing
"it's masturbation"
It wasn't worth even one star. I hated this book. I paged through it, noted that all they talk about it how much they hate cunts, and promptly returned the book to the library. Judging from the cover and the back of the book, it was supposed to be a good book. I figured it would be like Girl, Interrupted but for boys. It is not like that at all. It is very rare that I would pick up a book and not read it all the way through because it was just that bad. This deserves a review simply because it w ...more
Sep 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know what to say about this book. I REALLY liked it when I started. The first two "Items" specifically. Then the crazy people showed up, and the satire got into the swing of things following things to their illogical conclusions. I did not like reading about the crazy people. Then things get rather jumbled, and it's a mixed bag of good parts and bad, and then the ending. Which was great, but can't make up for the middle bits.
Alexander Lesher
This book is on the cusp of 4 stars, especially as the ending seems to pull it around. Its ambition is clear and strong. What is not clear sometimes is the dialog with myriad characters going back to forth and jumping around so much. I have read similar problems with the book. Sometimes it was removed from fun and just became tedious. The dialog is generally fun and funny even when it is confusing. I look forward to my third book by Lipsyte, probably for the summer.
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I guess this fits well in the love-it-or-hate-it category of books. I loved it. Kind of. I didn't like the plot much, nor the narrative. But I loved the offbeat dialogue, some killer lines and what is sure the sign of good talent - awesome characters. The size of the story, a bit less than 250 pages, is both a blessing and a curse, meaning, I don't think I could keep moving towards the direction it was going but I would love to dwell in the characters' company some more.
Marc Nash
I can think of few books as soulless as this. Lots of dialogue in which characters cut off their interlocutors as the knees with a snide non-sequitur. There are a few good concepts floating around in here, not least the end part with a look at a cult-cum-media organisation, but it's all too diffuse and I'm not aware of what the targets for the satire are because it's written for laughs rather than being anchored in anything with depth. 3 books down and I think I'm done with Lipsyte.
Lynn Silsby
My stars will always be weighted disproportionately positive because the truly awful books I wouldn't even bother to pick up or finish (and I wouldn't rate a book I haven't read?) This book is better than those books. I at least finished it. It didn't really work as a book but as you'd expect from Lipsyte, there were some very funny lines. Homeland is much better.
Aug 15, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was like someone who had seen a Pollock painting and decided to get in on the action by leaving the top off a blender filled with paint. Thoughtless word vomit disguised as 'satire', I don't know what the author was trying to say and I'm not sure if he did either. I would be annoyed at the waste of time if it hadn't been such a quick read.
Dec 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This novel is a riot, it is about a terminal illness that cannot be cured. Totally a satire it follows the man who has a disease, but he keeps living. After awhile it can become a bit much, but that is near the end and believe me you'll get a lot of laughs from this quirky book. It does get shocking near the end and takes a sour turn. Lots of curse words throughout.
Josiah Miller
Dec 10, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Homeland was the first Lipsyte book I read and I not only found it absolutely hysterical, there were some great passages that commented on society. After reading this novel and The Ask, I feel that he knows only one type of character. I thought there was only one real part that was funny. I felt like the plot was scattered from one place to the next just to make jokes that feel short for me.
Jul 05, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't get past the first 30 pages or so. The writing is too affected for my taste, far too clever, bordering on pretentious. I loved Lipsyte's story "The Dungeon Master" and may go back and try him again, though I will definitely look for his more recent work in the hopes that he got the cuteness out of his system.
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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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“How much I'd always envied the tight life of voles. The hidey hole was happiness.” 0 likes
“I'm finding that the older I get, it's not that I learn new things, it's more like I find out how much of what I know is common knowledge.” 0 likes
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