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Venus Drive: Stories Paperback – March 2, 2010
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Sam Lipsyte's Venus Drive is tightly wound in more ways than one. Peopled by walking-wounded hipsters with crummy jobs, drug fiends in varied stages of addiction, and kids sent away to summer camp who act on their worst instincts, these sharply written short stories crackle with crafty, streetwise dialogue. Their first-person narratives place engaging, unstable people into seedy yet believable situations in a way that might remind the reader of Denis Johnson, Robert Stone, or Lynne Tillman. Perspectives vary from tale to tale, but these are characters engaged in compulsive pursuits who find themselves pushed to limits they didn't know they had. At his best, Lipsyte writes the way Miles Davis played trumpet--with a few lines, and some silence, he makes everything cohere. One of the gifts of this debut collection is its unsentimentality; the various vignettes come together to show us that "life on the edge" is uncannily similar to any other lifestyle choice. For some, fantasy and reality are just different channels on the same TV set. --Mike McGonigal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Lipsyte's first short story collection gathers together 13 ferocious, truncated sketches, parading before the reader various semi-addicts, telemarketers and others suffering a terminal disconnect between their skills and their status. Not that Lipsyte's characters are going to choose the traditional American way out of their economic impasse, i.e., some mixture of sycophancy and labor. Disconnection, here, is style. Lipsyte's winners tend to achieve ephemeral glory as punk rockers or e-zine magnates before burning out. The narrator of "My Life, for Promotional Use Only" is a worn-out postpunk legend now working for his ex-girlfriend, Rosalie, in an office where everyone is eager to advance. "The people I work with are human r?sum?s. They are fluent in every computer language, boast degrees in marketing and medieval song. They snowboard on everything but snow. They study esoteric forms of South American combat and go on all-deer diets." The '90s prosperity is perceived as an alien excrescence. From "Admiral of the Swiss Navy" or "The Drury Girl," where the dark view of suburban childhoods predominates, to "Old Soul," the first story, about the narrator's sister's death from cancer, these people take the world much too seriously and yet risk things much too lightly. In "Beautiful Game," Gary is out on parole for possession; though he makes a living selling coke, he was actually arrested for trying to stop a cop from beating a street vendor. His mother wants him to meet a girl she's invited to a party. This almost invisible plot suggests a world of attitude. Gary, for instance, who is obviously wasting his life, won't waste an O'Douls because "it'd be wrong." Such collateral ironies make these stories simultaneously funny and disheartening. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"Once in a while, though, in the elevator at work, someone will stop me, a man my age with a cell phone, a portfolio case. He will ask me if I am who I am, recall with wonder something I did on stage with safety razors, mayonnaise. Maybe it's some dim gift I've given him, some phony idea that he's reached into danger long enough for one life. Now he can make some calls, do some deals. But neither of us knows what danger is. Neither of us is sinking fast through lake weeds."
But it's worth repeating that these stories, which reveal life with an honesty you'll see in few first-time collections, are often hilarious. Far from the fast (or slow) sink so much of today's fiction has become, this book - free of parlor tricks and cheap sentimentality, and full of small, hard, truths - is the triumphant surfacing of a fresh, and glorious, new voice.
A great book.
She was both. The beret, the serious literary look, it meant trouble, but not the kind I felt I couldn't handle. She was carrying one of my earlier books, Venus Drive, not the one I'd been reading from that night. Not the one I was currently pushing. The one I believed in, at least at the moment. No, Venus Drive was a collection of stories from my early period, which is really not all that different from my middle or late period, if I'm perfectly honest. She was carrying it along with a John Banville novel and a copy of Slow Man by J.M Coetzee. The scent of trouble rose a couple of octaves. I was not going to fair well in such company. Hold me to your bosom with Nicola Barker or Chuck Palahuniak and I can hold my own. But against Banville and Coetzee. Come on. Those guys have won Man Booker Awards. Nobel Prizes. It's not a fair fight.
"Would you like me to sign that?" I asked her.
She frowned. "I don't think the library would appreciate it. They might consider it vandalism. Or maybe a hoax. They might suspend my card if they think I'd done it. Besides, I was just bringing it back. I'm done with it."
I didn't quite like the way she'd said "I'm done with it." So final. Like a dish of something she'd had enough of before even finishing it. I knew I shouldn't have asked, but I asked anyway. Shoot me. I'm a glutton for punishment. "Would you like to tell me what you thought of it?"
Her frown deepened.
"Not here though," I quickly added. "I'm beat and I need a drink."
She shrugged. "Okay. Sure. I guess."
We were seated in a booth at a local pub. No need to describe it. A half-dozen words will do: wood, tin, leaded glass, neon. Okay, five words. The drinks hadn't even arrived when she started in.
"The first story...well, it really seems to set the tone for all the rest. Your narrator visits, alternately, a peep show, a friend, a bar, a woman's apartment to shoot drugs, the hospital to visit and sexually molest his dying sister, the peep show again, the bar again. It really seems you're going out of your way to be intentionally distasteful. You're daring the reader to find something redeeming. The next story it's pretty much the same thing. The narrator is hooked on morphine again except now he's living in a building with a bunch of old ladies in the apartment his mother left behind when she died from cancer. He's basically another creep you're daring us to like. For a change of pace, you throw in a short story where the narrator is a young girl from a terrible dysfunctional family that ends with a dream about rollerskating under the city where she comes upon a secret morgue. Then it's back to the drug-dealing burn-outs for a while."
I threw back a drink and then another, but I took the next one more slowly.
"I take it you didn't like the book."
"No, it's not that at all. There's that story about the fat boy in that summer camp from hell. It was smart to include that story because it makes your narrator seem more likable than the others. Almost heroic. You were in danger at that point in having your readers identify you with your narrators who are, generally speaking, real jerks. Which I hope you don't mind me saying. Because I know that is rather the point. But still jerks are jerks. And I know we aren't supposed to identify the author with his narrators but it's hard not to when all your stories are told in the first person."
She'd hardly touched the beer she ordered. When I pointed this out to her, she looked at it like she was surprised to find it there. As if it had spontaneously grown there. Like a magic poison toadstool. "I don't drink," she said.
I was about to ask, but didn't bother. "Do you mind?" I made to reach for the glass. "I hate to see a beer die in vain."
"Go right ahead."
"Well after that I guess it's kind of a blur. How could it not be? There's a story about a kid who's mom has cancer. A story about a kid who's dad has cancer. It seems someone always has cancer. It's dramatic, I know, to write a story where someone has cancer. But it strikes me as an easy way out. Like movies about people with cancer. If it's not cancer, then it's someone living a lowlife on drugs. The narrator often had a past life as a semi-successful rock musician. So its sort of like the same narrator telling variations of the same Ur-story of drugs, rock and roll, failed relationships, and general slackerdom. In other words, you. Or some version of you that you imagine yourself to be."
In the meantime, I ordered two more whiskeys and she ordered two more beers. I was in the process of drinking her second beer. "Yikes," I joked, "I sure hope you're not writing a book review."
"As a matter of fact I am."
My heart rolled over and sank. I feigned nonchalance, which wasn't hard to feign at this point in my career as a writer. Even easier in my career as a drunk. "Oh yeah? What paper?"
"Oh its not for a paper. It's for my blog."
My heart bobbed back merrily to the surface again. "Your blog?"
She looked positively cross. "I don't like the way you said 'your blog.' Like what you write couldn't just as easily have ended up on a blog if not for more than your share of lucky breaks."
"Well I don't know if I'd go that far."
"I would. And I know what you're thinking."
"What am I thinking?"
"I'm a bitter frustrated writer."
"I may be a little bitter, I admit. But I'm not frustrated. I write all the time. A frustrated writer would be, by definition, someone who wanted to write but didn't."
"For your blog."
"On a bathroom wall if that's all that was available. Publishing what you wrote in a book or a magazine has nothing to do with it. Getting paid has nothing to do with it. Except for the bitterness part, maybe. But I'll have you know, my blog is visited by thousands."
I shuddered to think, considering what she'd been saying about my book. What she'd be likely to write in her review. "What's the address if you don't mind me asking? I might want to check out what you wrote about me." I tried to smile. Probably a mistake. I was afraid it might look like something assembled from bad instructions translated from the Chinese.
She wrote the address down on a cocktail napkin. Her pen was at the ready. It was then I realized she'd been taking notes on what I'd thought was our private, spontaneous little chat. She slid the napkin over and I stared at it without seeing anything. I couldn't see much then. Her head looked practically featureless at this point, like a thumbprint wearing a beret. I ordered another drink. I ordered her another beer.
"So I guess you're going to tell your thousands of readers what a crappy book Venus Drive is? What a lousy one-note, one-trick pony I am as a writer. You wouldn't be the first one to say so, let me assure you."
I said it like I was shrugging it off, but it was a critique that sat heavy on my shoulders all the same. Just between us, it hurt me. Probably because I suspected it was at least partially true. Like when you someone says you're losing your hair and you've been doing your best to hide it, especially from yourself.
"No, I won't say that. Well, I might say that in an oblique way. But I liked your stories in the end. I mean, I read the book all the way through and that means something. I even got a decent amount of enjoyment from it. I actually laughed a few times."
"Sure. Really, it was a good book and I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it."
She seemed suddenly eager to comfort me, as if she'd seen something naked trembling and vulnerable in my face that frightened her into thinking I might do some rash sort of harm to myself and she'd be responsible.
"Nice to hear. After what you've been saying. I mean, you've been pretty negative."
"Well, it's the kind of writing, the kind of book...it's unfortunate for you really. It's easier to say what you don't like about it than what you do like about it."
"Unfortunate me," I echo.
"It's like you say at the end of one of your stories. I don't remember the title. But its a kind of dystopian love story. At the end you leave a message on this woman's phone who you barely know explaining that though you hardly know her you somehow know that you love her, that you're fated to love her. You say, or your narrator says, but I think it's you, really, talking and you say 'the proof that it's there is that you can't quite see it.' And I think that pretty perfectly sums up my sense why, the end, your stories are worth reading. Why I like them. There's something there and the proof is that you can't quite see it. So you keep trying."
It was all I could do at that point to keep from falling out of the booth and onto the floor I was so loaded.
"If this were one of your stories," she said, "this would be the point where you'd invited me back to your place to shoot drugs and have sex with me and you'd pass out not knowing the next morning if we did it or not."
She smiled and slid her beer across the table towards me.
She was right. If this were, in fact, one of my stories, I'd wake up the next morning, alone, hungover and this would all be coming back to me piecemeal. I'd be wondering if I'd brought her back to my room. If we'd slept together.
I'd light a cigarette. I'd scratch my fingernails through my sparse, disordered hair and wonder how much, if any of it, happened at all. How much I'd simply imagined. Then I'd find her beret.
I'd frantically search the pockets of everything I wore the day before, much of it what I was still wearing, for the wet cocktail napkin on which she written the address of her website and find it smeared into an inky blue illegibility. A Rorschach blot meaning...god only knew what. It looks like, what else, a tumor.
I'd shrug, set the beret on my balding head, and find the last of my stash. I'd shoot it and sit by the window, muttering to the pigeons.