Sam Lipsyte’s second novel, Home Land, is the story of Lewis Miner, a failed aphorist and part-time soft-drink advertiser who has taken to writing lengthy updates to his high school alumni newsletter. “It’s confession time, Catamounts,” he begins. “It’s time you knew the cold soft facts of me. Ever since Principal Fontana found me and commenced to bless my mail slot, monthly, with the Eastern Valley High School Alumni Newsletter, I’ve been meaning to write my update. Sad to say, vanity slowed my hand. Let a fever for the truth speed it now. Let me stand on the rooftop of my reckoning and shout naught but the indisputable: I did not pan out.”
Lewis’s updates languish unpublished. Ex-Principal Fontana is to blame, no longer at the helm of Eastern Valley HS (mascot: the catamount) due to a teen escort scandal, now embroiled in a dangerous affair with Jazz Loretta, the most beautiful girl in Lewis’s graduating class. Lewis’s battle to wrench some recognition for himself and his friend Gary from Fontana and their former classmates comprises the book’s narrative. In the course of this, Lewis—nicknamed “Teabag” after an incident from his sophomore year (“It hadn’t bothered me much at the time. I’d been under the impression it was some kind of a hazing ritual. What hurt was afterwards, when I still didn’t belong.”)—emerges as a darker (and lonelier) version of manic Whitman, shouting the truth about the homeland into unwilling ears. He is jeered and threatened; former football captain Phil Douglas even tells him to stay out of the mall (“It was a silly thing for him to say, Valley Cats,” Lewis comments. “No man can tell another man to stay out of the mall. That’s not how America works. That’s not what the framers intended”); but he carries on.
The excerpt below picks up at the end of Lewis’s first update. The entirety of that update appeared in Fence, v. 5, n. 2. After making the rounds of American publishers, Home Land appeared in England this past February. It will finally come out in the States as a Picador paperback original in January, 2005. That this quintessentially American novel, one of the funniest books in years, will have been available to British readers well before its appearance here, is not one of our publishing industry’s prouder moments.
Last week Gary and I decided to check out this new titty bar in town. It’s a decent joint called Brenda Bruno’s near the River Mall. The dancers are all educated so there’s no exploitation and the DJ is a connoisseur of the moody tunes I favor in the company of nude women who despise me. There we were, Gary and I, having a grand old time sipping our greyhounds, when in walked Principal Fontana. He seemed to stagger a bit, which we took for too much whisky, par for the Fontana course, until we noticed an unbelievable amount of blood pouring off the poor guy’s head. His shirt collar couldn’t soak it up fast enough and it was hard to believe he was still on his feet. He walked around the bar like that for a while, looking for all the world like a butchered zombie, or a man born old, full-sized, womb slime still on him. Nobody moved to help him and I could see the barback going for the telephone. Gary and I, we made an executive decision to seize Fontana by the elbows, guide him out to the parking lot.
“Get your filthy hands off me!” said Fontana.
“Principal Fontana,” I said. “It’s us, it’s us!”
“I don’t know you fucks,” he said. “Your faces. Where’s Loretta?”
“Jazz Loretta?” I said.
“Let him go,” said Gary.
Fontana loped across the parking lot and over the guardrails of Route Nine. We watched him weave off into darkness towards the boat basin. We stood and watched the darkness where he’d been.
“You should write this up for that newsletter,” said Gary.
“Are you nuts? Fontana’s the editor. He’ll never print it.”
“He has to print it. It happened.”
“So it’s an update?”
“Damn right it’s an update. An update is an update. The things that happen are the things that happen.”
Forgive me, Principal Fontana, but Gary has a point. Updates are updates, and it is in this spirit, assuming you survived your evening of massive blood loss on the trash slopes of the boat basin, that I know you’ll publish mine.
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