The Subject Steve: A Novel

Sam Lipsyte

Published by Picador, 2011
ISBN 10: 0312429975 / ISBN 13: 9780312429973
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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, or PREXIS for short. Turns out, though, Steve's just dying of boredom. The Subject Steve is a dazzling debut--by turns manic, ebullient, and exquisitely deadpan--Sam Lipsyte is in company with the master American satirists.

Review: The Subject Steve, Sam Lipsyte's remarkable debut novel, is an ebullient, bawdy and idiosyncratic assault on American consumer culture. Like fellow mercurial satirists Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, Lipsyte is an impressive stylist. His argot is the psychobabble of corporate jargon, advertising slogans and soundbites. Wordplay, rather than characterisation is Lipsyte's métier and his language positively fizzes with invention. The characters here don't so much converse as exchange obtuse epigrammatic non-sequiturs and indulge in linguistic quips. This should, of course, be utterly infuriating but it isn't. The dialogue, like the rest of this savage, absurdist take on contemporary life (and more precisely our horror of death), is startlingly acute and unrelentingly funny.

The eponymous Steve (who claims his name is not Steve) is a mild-mannered 37-year old ad man who pens slogans celebrating the "ongoing orgasm of the information lifestyle". Unfortunately he's dying but "he's dying of something nobody has ever died of before: he's actually going to die of boredom". The scientists (who may not be scientists although they do wear white coats) "calculate that there can be no calculations" about how long he has left to live. Faced with this eventuality he embarks on a particularly wayward sexual, narcotic and religious odyssey. Lipsyte fills Steve's journey with so many oddball doctors, multimedia weirdoes, dysfunctional gurus and bizarre sexual encounters it's actually rather difficult to imagine anyone dying of boredom. Exhaustion, perhaps.

Steve hires prostitutes, catches up with old friends, foes, his ex-wife, disaffected daughter and seeks a cure at Henrich of Newark's "Center for Nondenominational Recovery and Redemption". Henrich, a former government interrogator who now maintains discipline by forcing mothers to fellate their own sons, has an interesting line in cheese spreads, "decisive violence" and bestiality fables. His devotees include Bobby Trubate, a clapped-out actor with messianic delusions; Renee, a legless lesbian who takes a surprising interest in Steve's sexual organ and Parish, a psychopathic chief who puts kiwi fruits in the stew. They're odd but as everyone else keeps telling him he's "a goner" what choice does Steve have? Ludicrous and occasionally even a little bit sick, Lipsyte's surreal, intelligent black comedy proves that death really can be a laughing matter. --Travis Elborough

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Title: The Subject Steve: A Novel
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: 2011
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: New
Edition: Reprint.

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