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The Subject Steve: A Novel Paperback – March 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews 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 sound bites. Wordplay rather than characterization 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 that it's actually rather difficult to imagine anyone dying of boredom. Exhaustion, perhaps. 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, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Lipsyte's latest is a dark satire in which a protagonist named Steve is diagnosed with a vague but deadly disease called Prexis that sounds suspiciously like terminal boredom with modern life. Steve's doctors, two shadowy figures known only as the Mechanic and the Philosopher, try a variety of equally vague experimental treatments on him until their programs are exposed as fraudulent. His bizarre illness sets off a panic and a media frenzy, and Steve finds himself drawn to a clinic in upstate New York called the Center for Non-Denominational Recovery and Redemption run by a shady former torture expert known only as Heinrich of Newark, who uses pain-based "treatments." The cultish clinic proves equally ineffective, so Steve takes a couple of stabs at alternative medicine before heading west into the desert to join a futuristic cult called the Realm, where he prepares to meet his maker through a strange series of therapy sessions and off-the-wall broadcasts. In the stretches between the erratic and often bizarre plot twists, the author explores the disaffections of a divorced middle-aged man, delving into his professional disappointments, the emptiness of his marriage and love life, and the death of his best friend. Lipsyte (Venus Drive) has come up with an intriguing experimental concept, but the absence of coherent, linear plot means the commentary must be particularly sharp and interesting, and much of what Lipsyte offers is rambling, self-absorbed and at times just plain annoying. The troubles of the alienated and estranged offer plenty of opportunities for an adventurous approach, but much of what Lipsyte submits is familiar, a mannered echo, product of a sensibility halfway between Lish and Vonnegut.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312429975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312429973
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,026,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sam Lipsyte is the author of Venus Drive, a collection of short stories to be published by Flamingo in Dec 2002. His work has appeared in The New York Times and The Quarterly. He was born in 1968 and lives in New York City. This is his first novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Well, the other reviews here wrote there great synopses, but here's my two cents.
David Foster Wallace has this essay about the difficulty today's novelists have competing with mediated reality. Roth wrote this essay first, and Franzen's written it since (and has now written a novel following Wallace's advice) But despite W's literary catholicism, his fictions wallows in exactly the same stuff he abhors. And, of course, that's what makes it great, and it's what most fortysomething novelists spend a lot of time thinking about. I'd guess that Lipsyte's just get that this is stuff you learned in college--mediated reality is just a given.
This book is usually descibed as satire, and I guess that's true because it reminds me of Nathanial West--it manages to be scathing and poignant at the same time, and it's very human. It's also very--and I mean, <i>very</i>funny. It's like some sin not to be a realist today, but it's also not like the book is particularly difficult or anything (it's moving, but that's another story). I mean, it feels silly to recommend this book--you just want to thrust it into people's hands. On the other hand, this just might be a book that should have "this book is not for you" sticker slapped across the shrink wrap. You're always laughing at stuff that is real, which hurts. Which makes it so cool. Which also hurts.

I guess you all know this book is about a dying man whose condition is universal. Which is funny, because explains why something which reminds me of the best ever episode of the Simpsons has been reviewed as if it were an episode of ER. But it's not at all a morbid book. Steve-not-Steve (see?
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ariel Meadow Stallings VINE VOICE on September 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"The Subject Steve" follows the misfortunes and adventures of a middle-aged American named Steve--who claims he is NOT named Steve--who has just been told that he is "dying of something nobody else ever had." Steve stumbles through the media frenzy that erupts after the doctors name his disease PREXIS (Goldfarb-Blackstone Preparatory Extinction Syndrome), and eventually ends up at the Center for Non-Denominational Recovery and Redemption. At the Center, he encounters a half dozen wacky characters lead by Heinrich, a soldier-turned-guru, who is full of profane sexual parables and literally tortuous healing techniques. Steve eventually escapes from the Center to stay with his ex-wife and her family, only to be kidnapped and taken to a desert media bunker from which Heinrich's followers have launched a mass media entertainment assault dubbed "The Realm." Hallucinogenic, rapid-fire dialogue defines much of the action, as does high-stakes sex, drugs, and violence.
Personally, I found the book abhorrent. Central character development is inconsistent, and dialogue is filled with calculated non-sequiturs, monosyllabic questions, and frequent dead ends. If these conversational dead ends piqued the interest of the reader (as I can only assume they must be intended to), the technique could be interesting, but unfortunately the result is simply dizzying and dull.
To his credit, Lipsyte develops the adolescent media-paranoia of the first half of the book into what is almost a full-fledged social commentary at the end--complete with a FAQ sheet and faux web links in the text--but the character development of Steve has been so sparse that you simply don't care what happens to him.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Some half-wit wrote: "Well, after reading the last sentance of this crummy but brightly colored book...." Well, to quote Boston's Mission of Burma, what could I say to that? Best to let the work speak for itself. To wit:
"Home, I threw away my watches my clocks, my clock-radios. I kept my Jews of Jazz Calendar up on the kitchen door. The knowledge of days was crucial, I decided, the marking of hours a mistake."
"I called up my daughter at the School for disaffected daughters."
"I readied myself for the period in which I'd have to get ready. I waited for the time during which I'd have to get ready. I waited for the time during which I'd have to wait. I tied up loose ends, tidied up my accounts, put my papers in order, called old friends. I didn't really have any papers.
I did have friends.
I had Cudahy.
I called Cudahy.
'I'm coming to see you,' said Cudahy.
'Come soon,' I said.
I called my ex-wife, nothing if not a loose end, or at least a bit of untidiness, what with all we had left unaccounted for. .
'I knew you'd call,' said Maryse. 'I had a dream about you last week. You were walking through the pet food aisle at the supermarket and a kind of viscid bile was streaming down your chin.'
'It wasn't a dream,' I said. 'I'm dying.'
'I know, baby. I'm dying, too. But we've tried so many times already. We just have to learn to live with things the way they are. Things are not so bad. Truth be told, I'm not unfilled by William.'
'William's a very good fellow,' I said.
'He's not you,' said my ex-wife, 'but then again, you're not him.'
William had once been my hero. Then he whisked away my wife. Now he was a very good fellow, a f**cker, a thief.
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