There’s a lot to love in Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land; it is by far the funniest book I’ve read all year. Darkly funny, of course, because there’s not really another way to go about it, to carry off a whole novel humorously when we’re all so cynical and jaded. I like the dark humor. The Dangerous Husband (Jane Shapiro) and The Ecstatic (Victor Lavalle) are also funny, but the humor isn’t the same, there isn’t the same investment in character. The Dangerous Husband has a much smaller cast of characters, and it’s been established that most men don’t even find it funny (at least in my circle). The Ecstatic, I believe, could have been funnier, but a lot of it came off as just plain weird because the characters felt strangely underdeveloped, and the narrator lacked critical thought and reaction. Teabag, however, is a superb narrator. He’s self-aware enough to make fun of himself and those around him, but he still can’t help but be self-destructive.
The dialogue in Home Land is amazing; there’s a real rhythm and humor to most of it. Also, themes develop in the book through the repetition of dialogue and phrases: “Gravy boat! Stay in the now!” As far as characters go, there are some initial stereotypes, but most characters are revealed to be off in very unique and peculiar ways, which allows them to be built as individuals. The language of the narrative, being so unique, is more part of the story than in some other novels, if that makes any sense. For instance, Lewis has a whole lexicon of euphemisms for legwarmers. Why? Of course that’s too much to go into here, but every time the subject comes up in the narrative the reader is brought back, in a circular fashion, to what was told of before. And I have to give kudos to a narrative having the word bong in it so many times; that might sound frivolous on my part, but there simply aren’t that many books dealing with this type of sub-culture. No, wait: the word sub-culture makes me cringe, because it’s not that (there’s no ideology, only failed ones); it’s a segment of the population, the underbelly of the American dream, the lost souls still navigating their way through the service industry; yes, they do have bongs under their couches.
Being a fan of Nerve.com, and The Henry Miller Award, I consider myself up on the difference between bad-bad, good-bad, and good-good sex scenes in novels. My point is, these scenes in Home Land are decidedly the best bad (good-excruciatingly-bad) sex scenes I’ve ever read. I will never, ever forget the hotel scene between Lewis and Gwendolyn. Compared to novels I’ve read recently, Home Land may have the largest number of scenes which I don’t believe I’ll ever forget. So, how to make unforgettable scenes? In this case, there’s always something at stake for the characters (everyone is a little bit overly desperate; or, people are not hiding their desperation so much as in the real world, whatever that is) even if what is at stake is vague, trite, or silly. It still means something. And the majority of characters in these scenes are simply unable to play a fake part—they are honest in their desperation. The reader is given a true, crude, view into the living room. Some of it might be a little over the top, but shouldn’t it be? Isn’t it the novelist’s job to take everything and mold it into an intense, in this case satirical, piece of art?