If creative writing workshops were kegs of beer, “The Deniers” by Sam Lipsyte would be the leftover funk that squirts into a stein before the bartender changes to something fresher.
As with that leftover discharge from a keg, there may be an impulse to indulge and keep going if the bartender says it’s free, but it’s a mistake. Part way through “The Deniers” I thought I should stop. Then, I read on. Why? So you wouldn’t have to.
Let’s start with each particulate that swirls in this mixture:
- Angry, bitter, holocaust survivor dad who doesn’t speak much.
- Mom falls for and has affair with a Shell Oil fixer who is in town to get zoning for a gas station approved.
- Mom kills herself when the gas station man leaves her without a word.
- Mandy, the daughter, grows up to be a crack addict.
- Mandy’s junky boyfriend studied world folklore before dropping out of college.
- Mandy is stalked by a Cal, a white supremacist who is trying to reform.
- Mandy has a stereotypical poet for a friend.
- Mandy falters staying sober, runs into ex-boyfriend at AA.
- Mandy’s father has a mild stroke.
- Mandy’s father opens up to poet friend, who happens to speak Yiddish and understand pain.
- Mandy visits her childhood home seeking closure, the gas station is again a source for petitions.
- Mandy decides to change her life.
- Mandy has sex with the stalker, ex-white supremacist.
- The story ends with Mandy’s thoughts about the future, sigh.
There are other yeasty chunks to choke down as well, like poorly stylized phrases, melodrama, and a gripping sense of blandness. Don’t peer too long into this cloudy froth. Push it away. Wait for the keg to change, or a new issue of The New Yorker. Ever wonder why something’s not behind the pay-wall? Some stories are hard to even give away.
If you still want to read something by Lipsyte, I suggest “The Dungeon Master” as it is more authentic and original.
“Paranoia” by Said Sayrafiezadeh is a mix of humor and friendship set to the beat of the buildup for war and the slurring words of the news-cycle. The characters are in their early twenties and setup as opposites. Roberto has lived in the United States illegally since high school. His father and mother went back to Chile when their student visas expired and left Roberto to fend for himself and finish school. Dean on the other hand is a white U.S. citizen living some vague middle class existence. Where Roberto is impulsive, innocent, and struggling to live, Dean is steady, questioning though still somewhat innocent, and doesn’t seem to have many worries.
The two characters have a great relationship. At times, it seems like they are more like brothers than friends. Of course, the inevitable happens, that’s what it does, right? Inevitably happens. Roberto is deported. The deportation feels like the subtext Sayrafiezadeh has woven into the story. The characters complain about the heat, then the cold. They talk of war, about invasion. Troops move out. All of these things happen, and the characters don’t really care about them. The weather and the war are of little consequence.
Likewise, Roberto is afraid of being deported, and then he is deported. Dean discovers this on a visit when Roberto doesn’t answer the door. Finally, Roberto’s boss beckons Dean into his shop and tells him the news. The story ends with Dean walking home, and he doesn’t seem to care. Sure, there’s a reference to Dean’s childhood, and perhaps it represents a yearning for a simpler time, or a return to innocence, but that doesn’t really come through. If Dean, Roberto’s best friend, doesn’t care, then why should the reader?