June 14, 2003
Sam Lipsyte: The Subject Steve
I flicked through the first few pages of this in a bookshop. I was impressed, but not enough to actually buy the book.
A few weeks later, when I borrowed a library copy, I struggled to see what I'd liked about it. The Subject Steve is written in a very distinctive, compressed style. There are very few descriptions of what people are wearing, or what they look like, or what sort of people they are. Instead, there's a great reliance on dialogue to move things forward. Much of the novel is filled with short exchanges of conversation, which reveal the characters' pessimistic, bleak outlook. You'll either like that, and know exactly where Lipsyte is coming from, or you won't care.
Initially I liked it, and then I didn't care. Gradually, The Subject Steve becomes difficult to read. The characterisation is so sketchy that it becomes harder to maintain an interest in the dialogue. Characters arrive, shoot off a few snappy lines, and disappear. And all the conversations mean that it becomes difficult to be sure what's actually happening. By the time I got to the end, I couldn't remember what had happened at the start, or what had happened since then. Something about a guy who may or may not be dying, I think, and some kind of violent cult.
Lipsyte is very skilled at using hip, up to the minute language. He has a keen ear for the words and phrases and ideas of our time, and he plays with them, and takes them further. As a result, you get this sort of thing:
The pilot's voice came over the speaker to announce we'd be taking off shortly.
Lipsyte gives this distinctive, enigmatic dialogue to all his characters, which is good, but most of his characters hate each other, which isn't so good. They treat each other with indifference and disregard, and all their wit eventually counts for little.
The Subject Steve is a grim, dark ride. If that doesn't sound like your thing, avoid it. Or as one of Lipsyte's characters might say: respect your decision not to get involved.Posted by Sean Hegarty at 05:30 PM in the Fiction category | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)