Madeline Poage ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
By: Sam Lipsyte
Published: December 9, 2004
Genre: Fiction, Satire
Sam Lipsyte’s satirical novel Home Land, published in 2004 by Picador, follows anti-hero Lewis “Teabag” Miner, an alum of Eastern Valley High School, who “did not pan out.” Falling short of his fellow former students, among whom are doctors, athletes, and soon-to-be congressmen, Lewis spends his days in the New Jersey suburb where he grew up smoking pot, surfing the Internet for lewd pictures of women in leg warmers, and in general, doing nothing. But Lewis is also living out the dream of many high school misfits—he gets to tell his former classmates exactly what he thinks of them, as the book is written as a series of updates for his alma mater’s Alumni Newsletter, which Lewis knows are never actually published due to their inappropriate, but truthful nature. These updates detail the decrepit wasteland Lewis interprets the world to be, offering a unique perspective from the guy at the very bottom of the food chain in a dog–eat–dog world.
True to form, Lipsyte makes the reader care for this lovable loser through one distinct characteristic—his voice. Lewis’s narration is brutally honest, wildly manic, and unbelievably funny. The reader becomes privy to his deepest thoughts, darkest desires, strangest kinks, and most hidden fears, all delivered with a slap of morally ambiguous, laugh-out-loud humor tinged with the panic of an impending existential crisis. And while it is easy to get lost in the complex language sometimes, the one-liners are well worth it.
Sam Lipsyte is not known for his plot-driven writing, and Home Land in particular lacks conflict within a majority of its chapters, mostly because Lewis doesn’t seem to want anything. It’s only Lipsyte’s top-notch quality of writing that prevents this from becoming a problem, using the unpredictability of Lewis’s narration and the multitude of characters that come and go to keep the reader hooked. These characters range from twelve-step program drug dealers, to fellow alumni in various careers and stages of alcoholism, to Lewis’s Holden Caulfield–esque high school principal, most of whom manage to worm their way into the reader’s heart. With these individual characters mentioned and interacted with so briefly, it can become difficult to keep track of all of them. This only becomes a problem as, one by one, Lipsyte weaves the scattered threads together to finally create a climactic masterpiece where everything suddenly makes sense. This is worth the wait, but keeping a character list wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Sam Lipsyte has a way of writing where each line feels cosmically significant and revolutionary, but in an indescribable way where complete and total understanding of what he is trying to say is just out of reach. As repulsive as many of Lewis’s thoughts are and as pathetic as he can seem, it is impossible not to care for such an honest voice that rises above the squabbling of people around him. This is ultimately what carries the story. Yes, Lewis is a loser. But he’s too interesting a loser to ignore. He’s perverted, he’s crass, he’s hilarious, and in the end, he will break the reader’s heart.