Krok Zero's Reviews > Home Land

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
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's review
Mar 09, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: spring-2010
Read in March, 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.
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08/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new) - added it

Chris I've tried to start this book on two occasions and couldn't get past the first 10 pages. Does it take some adjustment or am I probably going to hate the whole book if I hated the first 10 pages? I thought the voice was annoying and totally unfunny but maybe I just wasn't in the right mood both times.

Krok Zero Chris, it pains me to say this about a book I just recommended so windbaggedly, but if you tried twice and hated it then the book probably isn't for you. The voice spoke to me immediately, but I can definitely see others not being on the same page.

Hell, I tried twice to get through Cormac's The Road and failed both times. At a certain point you just have to say, enh, this book's not for me.

That said, I am secretly judging you and your deficient sense of humor. ;)

message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Chris, you gave me the same advice about Underworld and it was spot on. You've only wasted 10 pages; I wasted 380. (btw, I like the new thumbnail).

Krok, this goes on my to-read list because you referenced John Hughes. There wasn't a movie of his I disliked. Funny how a key word drives you toward certain literature. Nice review, and Chris, I'll let you know if I get more than 10 pages.

Krok Zero Jason: hey, whatever works, but you should know that I wasn't comparing this book to a John Hughes movie at all--just referencing him as an example of America's obsession with high-school narratives. There's a deep, dark well of wounded cynicism here that John Hughes would not have even understood, let alone conceived.

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