Sam Lipsyte is the laureate of the broken people, people so brittle and warped you can’t help but laugh at them. In The Fun Parts, a collection of his short fiction, Lipsyte introduces us to one loser after another, each overwhelmed by life. They are young, they are old. They are men, they are women. They are charlatans, they are true believers. But no matter what they are, the one thing they have in common is their inability to deal with the world in which they find themselves. This is the blackest of black comedy.
Tovah Gold, the central figure in “The Climbing Room,” is a case in point. She is in her thirties and working part-time at a nursery school. She had been an administrator of a prep school, but had lost that job. Although she isn’t in a relationship at present, she finds herself seriously longing for a baby of her own. Her prospects are bleak. In the story she meets a rich older man. He is gross and unappealing, but for Tovah, he becomes a possible escape from the dead end of her life, until the end, when it turns out, he is even grosser than she had imagined.
In “Ode to Oldcorn,” an overweight high school shot putter learns the truth about high school athletic glory, when he meets an older shot putt hero. In “Nate’s Pain is Now” an author who has made a career writing about his miserable life, discovers his pain has become passé; his misery is no longer the misery of the moment, and Nate’s pain is now. In “The Worm in Philly” a heroin addict proposes that he write a child’s life of the boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler, only to end up beaten by a pusher. These are characters who think they have a strategy for life, only to discover they have been mistaken.
Lipsyte creates a world where failure is inevitable. There may be something that seems like success, at least temporarily, but it is an illusion. In “The Wisdom of the Doulas” the family of a new born finds themselves subject to the ministrations of a domineering doula who may well be bordering on insanity. His solution to the mother’s breast feeding problems, is little short of absurd, though it seems to work at least for the time.
In “Deniers,” a drug addicted young aerobic dance instructor at a Jewish Center whose father is a Holocaust survivor, becomes involved with an ex-Neo Nazi looking to expiate his guilty feelings. It is a relationship doomed from its start. She’s already planning on breaking up with him “gently,” even as she goes to bed with him.
Llipsyte is a writer who delights in the absurd. His gift is that he makes the absurd seem believable, he gets the reader to buy into his vision.