(Sam Lipsyte reads at the Hugo House tonight at 7:30 pm.)
Here's the thing that makes Sam Lipsyte special: He reaches somewhere deep inside of you and finds the thing that you most hate about yourself, like the time you bullied the one kid in high school who was somehow buried even deeper in the social strata than you, or that one afternoon when you said something cruel to someone you love just so you could exult in your capacity to be cruel, or when you look at something small and gentle that depends on you for life and all you can do is barely choke back bile and shoot streams of venom from your eye sockets, and then he shows that moment to you with the clarity and brutal honesty of a makeup mirror under fluorescent lights. Lipsyte's fiction makes you find the funny thing about the darkest moment, the thing that you never told anyone about. It's not a cathartic kind of laughter that cleanses and absolves the spirit, but it's not the wounded kind of throaty, guttural chuckle that drags you down, either. It's something else. It's recognition.
Get a load of this, from Lipsyte's new short-story collection, The Fun Parts, describing a failed poet named Tovah having an intensely private experience:
Now she was thirty-six and in one eating spree had become a vile sack of fat and rot. In her vision of herself she was not even obese, but more like a bloated carcass gaffed from a lake. There on the couch, her belly flopped over her jeans, the new chin she'd acquired in about five hours damp and rashy, rank scents curled from her pores and, especially, from her crotch, whenever she tugged at her waistband to ease the ache...she felt slimy, garbage-juice sexy. Her hand jerked inside her underwear for relief... Tovah's legal pad, upon which she'd written only the title of her poem, "Needing the Wood," slid to the carpet. Her fountain pen, caught against an embroidered yellow pillow, impaled it.
It's an awful image, a woman hate-fucking herself at a time when self-loathing turns the corner and runs smack into self-love and topples over and starts humping without a second thought...