Interview: Sam Lipsyte

The Fun Parts seems an ironic title for Sam Lipsyte’s astonishing new book, his return to the short story after three acclaimed novels. In these stories, the recovering-addict daughter of a Holocaust survivor grows involved with a recovering Neo-Nazi; a listless office-drone of a dad is targeted by an anthropomorphic drone of a much more lethal variety; and a junkie tries to get rich quick. Needless to say, these characters do not experience much fun.

But for the reader there’s no irony. When I was Lipsyte’s student, he told us to cut anything we thought we needed before “getting to the good part,” because “it all has to be the good part.” This collection demonstrates the generosity of that commitment: almost every sentence is fun, and many are funny—very funny. Through tight control of each word, Lipsyte simultaneously evokes the institutionalized language that defines and tortures his characters (and us) and creates a language that is itself a kind of quarantined fun zone: “Her friends, the endorphins. She wanted to leap off a boat and swim with them.”

At Lipsyte’s office at Columbia University, we talked about how institutionalized language shapes the way we see everything from the Holocaust to drone strikes—a topic touched on in this collection’s “The Republic of Empathy,”—to what Lipsyte calls “the Z word” and what he possibly shares with Louis C.K. and Marc Maron. We also talked about short stories versus novels, the future of writing, and why he feels foxy.

—David Burr Gerrard

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