OUR CUP RUNNETH over--new story collections by George Saunders and by Sam Lipsyte, separated by mere weeks.
Saunders, as noted in LLL a little while back, seems somewhat mellowed to me, but Lipsyte's characters remain the underachieving, unassimilable, unprepossessing, still-sort-of-young-but-old-enough-to-know-better men that populate HomeLand and The Ask. They are also still hilarious, still compellingly articulate, still occasionally capable of candid self-assessement between bouts of delusion. Four of these stories--the New Yorker ones--I had read before, but they were all just as good, maybe better, the second time around.
Lipsyte's collection of not-quite-together males who are nonetheless capable of fascinating us with their rhetorical performance set me to wondering where they would fall on the Roiphe Index.
At least some of you, I imagine, recall Katie Roiphe's NYTBR essay of I think four years ago, praising the oft-condemned male characters of Roth, Updike, Bellow, and Mailer for their no-apologies sexual swagger:
There is in these scenes rage, revenge and some garden-variety sexism, but they are — in their force, in their gale winds, in their intelligence — charismatic, a celebration of the virility of their bookish, yet oddly irresistible, protagonists. As the best scenes spool forward, they are maddening, beautiful, eloquent and repugnant all at once.
By contrast, in Roiphe's eyes, the male characters of the current hegemonic American male novelists--Eggers, Franzen, Wallace, Chabon--seemed a bit over-polite, unassertive...wimpy, in effect.
So, what of Lipsyte's characters, brazen in their Guyishness? Would Lipsyte's male characters, in their sneaking off to get stoned, their addiction to games, their bluffing, their readiness to lie and their reliance on bullshit when trouble looms, count as "maddening, beautiful, eloquent, and repugnant all at once"?
I'm guessing Roiphe's answer would be "no." Or even "NO!" But why not? I, for one, would much rather hang out with one of Lipsyte's narrators than with, say, Rabbit Angstrom. They seem a lot more fun, and they are undeniably more verbally ingenious.