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:

  1. Angry, bitter, holocaust survivor dad who doesn’t speak much.
  2. Mom falls for and has affair with a Shell Oil fixer who is in town to get zoning for a gas station approved.
  3. Mom kills herself when the gas station man leaves her without a word.
  4. Mandy, the daughter, grows up to be a crack addict.
  5. Mandy’s junky boyfriend studied world folklore before dropping out of college.
  6. Mandy is stalked by a Cal, a white supremacist who is trying to reform.
  7. Mandy has a stereotypical poet for a friend.
  8. Mandy falters staying sober, runs into ex-boyfriend at AA.
  9. Mandy’s father has a mild stroke.
  10. Mandy’s father opens up to poet friend, who happens to speak Yiddish and understand pain.
  11. Mandy visits her childhood home seeking closure, the gas station is again a source for petitions.
  12. Mandy decides to change her life.
  13. Mandy has sex with the stalker, ex-white supremacist.
  14. 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.


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