Observer Review: The Subject Steve By Sam Lipsyte Essay, Research Paper
Walking, talking, living dull…The Subject SteveSam LipsyteFlamingo ?9.99, pp272A caption writer for silicon companies, Steve, the narrator of Sam Lipsyte’s satirical novel, is a sardonic, self-deprecating man in his late thirties given to faking fits in order to get out of any difficult situation. He is a careless parent whose daughter, when he calls her to break the news that he’s dying, replies: ‘Please, Daddy, don’t say that. What if this is the last time we speak?’ and hangs up.Steve’s recently diagnosed terminal illness is greeted with both morbid fascination and shocking indifference, even by his own doctors who look into their patient’s eyes and see only their own futures glittering (’You’re dying quite quickly. The rest is a mystery better explained in our upcoming book’). The value of his malaise, and the nub of the novel, is that Steve is dying of something utterly new. He has no symptoms and feels fine: he is, quite literally, dying of boredom. Steve is the first person to have terminal ennui.Lipsyte’s novel, his debut, is an all-American tale in its twenty-first century form: ironic, experimental, post-technological, full of a world-weary nonchalance. It is reminiscent of Douglas Coupland in its authorial style, and contains echoes of Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius in its use, or mockery, of audience-reader interaction. Whereas Eggers posited suggestions to his readers and asked them to reply to a published phone number, Lipsyte creates a faux internet chatroom in which participants may (and frequently do) verbally attack Steve.In desperation, and having exhausted his medical insurance, the dying man joins a group called the Centre for Non-Denominational Recovery and Redemption. ‘Everything’s a cult, son,’ the director reassures him. ‘If it’s not a cult it’s a man sitting alone in a room.’ But being surrounded by people as bitterly cynical as himself highlights the novel’s weakness: every character speaks with the same voice; all are depressed comedians and dispirited nihilists.Lipsyte has a gift for glib profundities (’Already I was nostalgic for my sorrows… My mouth watered for bitter fruit’), but it’s no coincidence that Steve is a caption writer. His narrative is made up of smart deliveries and cracking ideas that don’t always stretch very far.