Slacker narrators have never been the most appealing literary subgroup ... Lewis 'Teabag' Miner, the wiggy epistolary narrator of Sam Lipsyte’s new novel, Home Land, is the exception who proves the rule—indeed, with any luck, he could be the one to retire it, and make aimless American middle-aged men respectable literary figures once more ... The upshot is that what seems at first to be yet another in a long line of contemporary self-pitying narrators turns out to be someone surprisingly fresh and angst-free ... Admittedly, some readers might find the novel’s humor a little too dark ... Still, for a pace this frantic, few of the fireworks are duds.
Written as a series of unembroidered letters Miner sends to Catamount Notes, Home Land is an energetic campaign against the art of the sunny update ... This novel...has an obvious forebear in Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. Like Portnoy, Miner piles clausal filigree upon clausal filigree to create a baroque edifice of seething irony ... But Home Land is not simply an account of life at the bottom of the food chain. Miner is too interesting a loser -- in the face of his vast inconsequence, he remains unbowed ... As Lipsyte pointedly shows, Miner is less a loser than an avatar of failure, a high priest of defects. What he truly wants is to enlighten those of us who have yet to acknowledge our own flaws -- in other words, almost everybody.
Sam Lipsyte can really write. Sentence after sentence is clever, agile, amused; they torque away, at the last moment, from what you might expect. One-liners abound, often freighted with darkness and insight; Lipsyte is playful and lewd, bleak and farcical, walking a fine line between near-glib humour and a genuine existential fear one could even call Beckettian ... At the same time, he could not be more contemporary, more American ... Partly because it's all contained in the same town, enabling better development of fewer characters, partly because it's hung on a simple plot, Homeland is a lot more satisfying than The Subject Steve ... The passivity, the wallowing in alienation, becomes aggravating.
In the hands of another writer, this narcissistic rant could have become pretty tedious, pretty darn fast. Other than a bizarre high school reunion denouement (called a 'Togethering') near the end of the novel, not much of import really happens outside of Miner's twisted inner dialogue. Fortunately, Lipsyte is a gifted master of words, and he creates a perfect balance of humor and pathos in the ramblings of this sharp-tongued loser.
That giddy, passing-itself-off-as-ordinary persistence becomes the point of the novel, which presents lives that continue in the face of crushing, banal and heartbreaking failures ... The novel climaxes, if it can be called that, at a surreal gathering of former classmates dubbed a Togethering. At every turn, Lipsyte plays on the clichés of the stuck-white-aging-male, though he embellishes them with sharp dialogue. That the novel is an unpleasant, static read is a sign of its uncompromising, mise-en-abyme success.
More marijuana moonbeams from reefer-brained Lipsyte ... Many who enter will soon find themselves tripping over phrases and sentences so dishearteningly opaque that deconstructing the narrator’s glancing shots at originality will become too tiring to bear ... The novel works toward the 'Togethering,' a kind of alumni dance that becomes a marathon of loudmouthing, capped by a dreadful speech Lewis addresses to the assembled.