Lipstein of plagiarizing Kolker’s article — his novel was finished long before the Times piece appeared — but Last Resort offers an uncanny dramatization of the issues Kolker explored. Clearly, we live in an age sweaty with anxiety about authenticity ... If you’ve ever wondered where writers get their ideas from, Last Resort is wicked fun. If you’re a writer, Last Resort is heartburn in print. Splayed across these pages is the dark terror that lurks within any creative person’s breast: the embarrassing facts that might demolish the glorious claims made in the name of literary invention ... As Lipstein skewers the pretensions and delusions of literary ambition, he reveals the mental tricks that allow writers to imagine that they care only for art, not money or fame. And he exposes the extent to which novelists will go to ignore, obscure and even deny their sources ... expands into a deliciously absurd comedy about literary fame. This is Lipstein’s first novel, but he has somehow already acquired a bitterly accurate understanding of the tiny arena in which reviews, blurbs, book signings, Goodreads comments and puffy author profiles can coalesce to make a writer rich — or notorious ... is ultimately about the difference between what we say we want and what we pursue at our own peril. And that’s a conflict any of us can relate to, even if we haven’t stolen a friend’s story — yet.
... incredibly entertaining ... If Lipstein had written a less cunning book, he might have contrasted Caleb with a character who represented artistic purity, whatever that is. But everyone here sits somewhere on the grifter spectrum, including the real people (Avi, doomed woman, repressed married couple) upon whom Caleb’s characters are based.
Funny, stylish and accomplished, it is a satirical caper about the tangled roots of creative inspiration and the indignities of authorial ambition. There is a time-honoured – some would say moth-eaten – tradition of novelists writing novels about novelists, from Roth and Updike to Rooney, Ferrante and Jean Hanff Korelitz. Are such books interrogations of the moral and material conditions of authorship, or exercises in literary navel gazing? And who on earth wants to read another one? For much of this novel, I was surprised to find myself thinking: I do ... Lipstein sets up this dilemma, and traces the fallout from it, with a formal and stylistic swagger that more experienced novelists might envy. But at a certain point the question I found myself confronting was: who cares? Both money and acclaim undoubtedly have their upsides, but in themselves neither can give life or a novel meaning. Lipstein knows this: Last Resort is an unsparing satire of a generation of millennials who fear that their lives lack gravitas and emotional depth. Every gesture is inflected with painful self-awareness, a first approximation of feeling ... stakes everything on the hope that being knowing enough about knowingness, and ironic enough about irony, can help a novel transcend its own self-consciousness and point to something more profound. You won’t read a more brilliantly executed literary romp this year. But at a certain point you may find yourself longing for something a bit more … well, you know, whatever the opposite of empty is.