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January 27, 2005

Try to Continue the Pain and Degradation

by Ron Hogan

I was psyched to see Stephen Elliott read from Happy Baby Tuesday night, even if the chapter he chose to read, "Stalking Gracie," was the shortest--in deference, he said, to the fact that he was sharing the podium at the Astor Place B&N with Sam Lipsyte--and "a dark chapter in an otherwise funny book." Very, very dark. In it, the narrator spots a former guard at one of the juvenile detention centers in which he was raised and begins following him on the subways to his home, plotting revenge for the repeated rapes he endured as an adolescent...and, as you can imagine, he doesn't quite get what he wants. All of which affects his home life with an aggressively masochistic girlfriend who provided the chapter with some of its most intense imagery.

"I'm going to try to continue the pain and degradation," Lipsyte said as he came to the microphone, and then he read from the opening of Home Land, a series of letters to a high school alumni newsletter from a man who, as he freely admits, "did not pan out." After that setup was established to much laughter, he switched to a later scene in which the protagonist has a bizarre sexual encounter with his ex-fiancée. Those readers who admired the no-holds-barred, go-where-the-scene-takes-you quality of Lipsyte's The Subject Steve will find that Home Land is grounded more solidly in the "real" world, but don't worry: it ain't as if Sam's gone all naturalistic on his fans. Not by a long shot.

On my way out, I was pleased to run into Cupcake codirector Lauren Cerand, who reminded me about a special reading she's putting together at Bluestockings next week (2/4) with Quinn Dalton and Elizabeth Merrick.

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