For Those About To Fail, We Salute You

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Title: Venus Drive

Rating: 3 Stars

Another mixed bag of short stories. I actually feel the same way about these that I felt about Paterniti’s set of essays (here). I know that one is fiction and the other is a set of experiences, but in both cases, the first entries left me cold and somewhat discouraged for the rest, but then there were a couple of entries towards the end that left me in a happy enough state to merit it the third star.

Although, in all honesty, happiness isn’t exactly the state that I would describe it. In Paterniti’s case, it was the harrowing story of the atrocities that took place during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in Cambodia.

In the case of Lipsyte, none of his stories are designed to leave the reader with a warm and happy feeling. All of his stories concern people who are not the lottery winners of our modern world. His stories are populated with drug addicts, dealers,  failed rock musicians, cancer victims, and social outcasts of all flavors.

In my opinion, the cream of the crop was My Life, For Promotional Use Only. It was a laugh out loud story of a failed punk rock musician who now works, for very low wages and with no real responsibilities, for an ex-girlfriend in the office of a start up. The interplay between the musician (although not named here, I’m guessing it’s Gary because a similar character does show up in other stories here) and his girlfriend Rosalie in their awkward relationship is sharply funny. His complete lack of fulfillment and lack of desire at work probably strikes a chord for many that read it.

In a similar vein, in Probe to the Negative, Lipsyte plumbs the depth of conducting telemarketer surveys, those that work there, and the toll that it takes and what must be done to escape it.

The final main highlight is Cremains, about a man who has moved into his mother’s (having recently died of cancer) apartment for the primary purpose of using up her remaining stock of morphine. The apartment must be in some kind of elderly facility because he has several interactions with other elderly women. He considers this part of the price for getting the free morphine.

All in all, there is a consistent mordant wit running through all of his stories. In my opinion, not all of them work (in fact, possibly half or more fell flat), but enough of them did that I enjoyed reading the collection.

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