INTERVIEW BY ROCCO CASTORO
PORTRAITS BY ANNABEL MEHRAN
his was Sam Lipsyte’s year. Or maybe it was the year of Sam Lipsyte. At the very least, 2010 was when fiction critics at widely read newspapers and periodicals decided to finally give the man the two-fingered whistles he deserves. Most of the excitement had to do with The Ask, his third novel, which was released in March.
For those of you who can still look forward to enjoying this well-crafted and ferociously truthful book, The Ask tells the story of Milo, a disaffected, middle-aged Jewish man who lives in Astoria, Queens, with his wife and son. Milo fancied himself an artist in his youth, but after failing to even fail in the art world, he works as a project developer at a crummy university. He and his colleagues try to procure big money from the sort of philanthropists who want their names splayed across the awnings of fine-arts buildings. Not long into the novel, Milo gets fired. After loafing around a bit, he’s rehired under cryptic circumstances that involve an old, obscenely wealthy friend from his college days. What ensues involves an Iraq-war veteran with titanium legs, Milo’s separation from his wife—partially because of her half-denied sexual escapades with a gay male coworker—envelopes of cash, a dying businessman whose only joy comes from locavore ice cream produced by a rogue member of the experimental preschool Milo’s son attends, near-constant forlorn horniness, an aloof lesbian mother, and a wise kiddie-diddler. Crushing doubt oozes from every page. It’s the type of book that might best be saved until you’re in a true rut, when nothing else seems to resonate or stimulate. If you’re anything like most humans these days, this dilemma is perpetually imminent.
Sam’s earlier novels and short stories slowly amassed notice and acclaim throughout the past decade. His debut novel, 2002’s The Subject Steve, and 2004’s Home Land are, like The Ask, caustic and depressing in ways that manage to give me a strange sensation of joy (and not in an “at least I’m not that guy” way). The Subject Steve is about a schlub who is diagnosed with what amounts to gangrenous boredom and Home Land is a series of “updates” written 15 years after graduation to a high school alumni newsletter by a lifelong loser in New Jersey. Home Land in particular garnered a lot of praise from periodicals and websites that are mostly read by people who already knew about Sam. Eventually it won a few nice awards, but dozens of publishers passed on it before its eventual release. And even then it was relegated to the UK’s paperback-only market until Picador picked it up in the States. Venus Drive, a collection of Sam’s shorts published in 2000, is tonally in the same vein as his longer works but is diverse in ways that hint that his brain is sloshing with supremely unexpected tales recounted by unlikely narrators.
At 42, Sam is a creative-writing professor at Columbia University and a Guggenheim Fellow. As many interviewers and reviewers have been, um, perceptive enough to point out, The Ask is his first hardcover and his first book with some serious marketing muscle behind it (courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Considering the subject matter and weirdos that inhabit Sam’s stories, perhaps the broader recognition for his work didn’t really take so long. He is, by anyone’s definition, a successful writer who has carefully and methodically honed his voice at his own pace. And maybe now that the world is apparently doomed and no one will ever be happy or have jobs again, we’re collectively dejected and self-pitying enough to accept Sam’s observations on a larger scale. Or perhaps he just wrote an undeniably good and important book that genuinely connects with people.
Sam’s writing is deeply funny. More important—and this is his true magic—it somehow forces me to be honest with myself even if it’s painful. Only a handful of authors have affected me in such a way. I recently visited Sam at the Columbia campus to discuss all of the foregoing things and more.
Vice: The last nine months were probably overwhelming for you. You must have known The Ask was something special, but the response has been huge. Now that things have died down a bit, how are you feeling?
Sam Lipsyte: I was thrilled with the attention. It was great, like nothing I’d experienced before. With the previous book [Home Land], there was more of a slow build over a few years of people discovering it. This was something else entirely. I think The Ask got momentum very early because it was reviewed everywhere almost instantly. Some were good, some were bad, but it got reviewed by all at once. Apparently, that’s an important thing.
Has all of the attention made you anxious? Are you worried it will affect your writing?
No. I just do what I want to do. My strategy is to try to get from one book to the next. The critical success of this book means that I get another chance. The industry’s pretty brutal right now, so a lot of people aren’t getting another chance. Even if their books get good reviews, sometimes they don’t sell at all. I feel really lucky.
You’ve also experienced the other end of the spectrum. Your first novel was released on September 11, 2001, and numerous publishers rejected Home Land. I have no idea how this stuff works, but a lot of it seems arbitrary. How did things align differently with The Ask?
I think I had been building something since my first book, and Home Land really cemented it. There seemed to be a group of people interested in what I was doing and what I might be doing next. I’ve also been reading tons in New York and elsewhere for years, and I know that people have taught Home Land in various places. That book was bought in the UK first because no one would buy it here. It then had a good critical reception over there. All along an editor named Lorin Stein, who now runs the Paris Review, wanted to publish Home Land, as did another Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor named Ethan Nosowsky. But they didn’t quite have the juice yet. Then, a year later, they did, and Lorin was able to do it through Picador. So there was a growing readership in the States that The Ask was able to tap into. But that’s just one particular case. In general I think it’s still kind of flukey. With The Ask—strangely enough, or maybe not so strangely—I had my home at FSG and everything was great in America, but I couldn’t sell it in the UK. It went around and around, and even the guy who had been my great champion over there passed on it. So you never know. Eventually it was published by this great, small British press called Old Street.
Do you think that FSG will be your home in the States for the foreseeable future?
I’m doing another book with them now. I’m very sad that Lorin left, but I love the people there. Now I’m working with an editor named Eric Chinski, who seems great and has an incredible reputation. As long as they’ll have me, I’d like to be there.
How do you feel about digital books and iPads and all the ways publishers are trying to reinvent their products? Is there hope that e-books will put a little more cash into authors’ pockets?
I’m still in the “publishing is really in a horrible place” mentality, but then I go out with agents and editors. They feel they’ve turned a corner and they’re starting to figure out how it’s going to work electronically. They have, out of necessity, created an optimistic picture of how it’s all going to work. But I’m still not sure.
One thing we can count on is that marketing departments will have even more of an influence over what’s published once there’s a bigger digital marketplace. And that brings us back to Home Land. It arrived when this new way to sell books was on the rise. I get the feeling marketing departments didn’t know how to sum you up in a blurb, and that scared them.
That always enters the picture. As a writer you think, “If it’s good, they should publish it.” That’s not what an editor thinks. An editor has to go through two processes. One is, “Do I like it?” And, two, “Can I sell it?” As a serious writer you’re not thinking along those lines. You assume that if you write something that kicks ass and is clearly better than the stuff that’s getting published, of course it will get published. Often it does, but sometimes it doesn’t. With Home Land, there were a few people who didn’t get it or who didn’t like the humor—but most people said, “I don’t know how to sell it. I don’t know how to market it.” At one point I had to get on the phone with the publisher and do some bizarre song and dance where I had to explain how they should position me from a marketing standpoint. I had to pitch ideas for how they could talk about me. I’m very sorry I did that phone call. It was one of the lowest moments of my writing life.
They were that stumped?
Yeah. [laughs] And then they ended up really humiliating me. Finally, after an hour of talking about my influences and all of these literary arguments, they were like, “No, really, this doesn’t make any sense. What are we going to tell the people about you?” I said, “I don’t know. Dark? Funny?” Then the editor said, “We’ll let the critics decide that.” I got off the phone. That’s the last time I ever took any of that seriously. My publisher has put up a Facebook page, but I don’t have a Facebook of my own. They had someone tweeting lines from my book, but I don’t do that. I’m sure it’s hurt me in some ways, but I have to create and maintain that distance.
Does your age have anything to do with it? I feel like a few years ago, when you were shopping around Home Land, there was some sort of publishing purgatory authors had to deal with if they weren’t a twee 24-year-old who had hang-ups about their ethnicity. Is that still a thing?
I don’t know that it’s as popular as it was, but there was definitely a run of signing kids, giving tremendous contracts to people in their early 20s. What makes sense about that, from their point of view, I gather, is that for one thing the sale itself creates the marketing excitement. And as an editor—if you sign up someone who doesn’t have a publishing record, a track record—you can’t be criticized for poor sales. This was a problem with Home Land, because my previous book was The Subject Steve. It came out on 9/11, and it died. So they said, “Whoa, look at his last book. It didn’t sell anything.” Obviously if you pay a lot of money to somebody who hasn’t sold books, then when that book doesn’t sell a lot your superiors say, “You’re an idiot. Get out of here.” But no one’s going to blame you for taking a chance on a young fresh face. Which is fine. Some of those young kids are great. They should be published. Some of them need more time to develop.
Do you have any regrets from your youth?
There are things that I regret, but they changed stuff for the better. I remember spending a couple of days in jail. It didn’t wake me up right away but it gave me a sense that things were not going in the right direction. There was another time when my sister was very young. We were playing in the yard and she had to go to the bathroom. Out of pure cruelty I convinced her that she wasn’t allowed back in the house so whatever she did she’d have to do it outside, so she dropped a load on the sidewalk. I didn’t learn anything from that. I feel awful about it to this day.
Much of your work touches on childhood and parenting in a very uncomfortable way. You don’t discount the joys of having children, but you also explore the agony that comes with it. My mother read The Ask because she’d seen some positive reviews. She told me that although she liked it and thought the writing was excellent, it wasn’t the “type of book” she normally reads. I took that to mean that it made her feel uncomfortable, and that feeling is not what she’s looking for in literature. And I think that what bothered her most was how you write about parenting and marriage.
There’s a lot of depressing stuff about having kids, as I’m sure there’s a lot of depressing stuff about being lonely. I guess I’m just coming from a place where I don’t necessarily think happiness is a right. The pursuit of it is. I’m supposed to show you a picture of my kids and tell you how wonderful they are and be kind of humble about it, but I’m not supposed to tell you that I feel overwhelmed and I’ve lost my sense of who I am. All of those things happen, but it’s also not the case all the time. It’s just about being honest.
I’ve always said that I don’t want kids. Everyone tells me that I’ll grow out of it. Would it offend or disturb you to know that your books reaffirm my revulsion at parenthood?
How old are you?
You’ve got some time.
Fair enough, but I can guarantee it’s not going to happen for a long while. I’ll only do it if I can afford to hire people to take care of all the shitty parts, leaving me with nothing but the joy. I might have to freeze some sperm to buy enough time, but that’s my plan.
I didn’t want to have kids, because I was never thinking about it. I was never one of those people who had a philosophy about it. It wasn’t like, “If you want to go out with me, you have to understand that I will never have children.” I didn’t think about it. It’s not about wanting to have kids as much as wanting to have kids with a person. If you’re not with that person it’s not really an issue. And one may want to have kids more than the other, but it’s about wanting to do that with somebody. That’s why you can’t ever tell.
Are you religious?
This is funny because I was just on a panel of Jewish writers at a Jewish community center in San Francisco, and I didn’t go over that well when I starting talking about my faith. I think I said something along the lines of, “I’ve always been more interested in anti-Semitism than Judaism.” My only real connection to the religion was getting beat up as a kid. Let’s just say that I’m on my own spiritual path and that I don’t practice any religion that is institutionalized.
The honesty is what I like best about your work. It’s a particular type of honesty that many people are afraid to explore because your characters’ faults may mirror their own and make them feel like scumbags in the process. But everyone should feel like an asshole sometimes, or else you’ll become an asshole all the time without knowing it.
That was really important to me because I hadn’t read that much fiction that dealt with fatherhood this way—the sea change that happens, the terror and confusion that go along with the joy. For instance, in The Ask the only thing Milo really loves is his son, but being a parent with someone else is also a source of anxiety. It opens old wounds.
Does your wife get pissed about some of the things you write?
No. She’s really tough. She gets angry if it’s stupid [laughs] but she’s pretty much my main reader before I let it out into the wider world.
I read somewhere that she trashed the first draft of The Ask.
Yeah, she did. It wasn’t even a first draft. It was just a draft. [laughs] I think that she’s very forgiving about using stuff from our lives, even when I’m mining the present moment. Maybe a couple times I’ve overstepped a little bit and she wasn’t happy about it.
How about other family members and friends? I’m guessing they aren’t so forgiving.
Yeah, I think I’ve lost some friends. It’s never been stated to me outright, but it’s pretty clear. I’ve had family members get a little upset, but people will recognize themselves in things that may or may not have to do with them. In one story from Venus Drive—the first story, “Old Soul”—the guy goes to visit his sister in the hospital. In kind of a loving way he tries to give his sister—who’s comatose on a hospital bed and very near death—a little pleasure with his hand, his knuckle. He knuckles in there, under her gown. My sister, who has never been sick and has nothing to do with that character, said, “Well, that was pretty disturbing.” I said, “Which part?” She replied, “The part where you put your knuckle in the sister.” She was saying it was me, not a character in the story, who knuckled the sister, but then it wasn’t her, it was “the” sister. To me that had something to do with the way people negotiate that kind of trickiness, where they might be in the story. Of course there’s the saying, the moment a writer is born into a family that family is finished. And my parents were writers so my family was destroyed way before I came around. [laughs]
You just dance on the ruins.
I inherited the postapocalyptic landscape of my family.
In my perception, Venus Drive, Home Land, and The Ask follow a loose pattern. Exempting The Subject Steve, your books have flowed chronologically from one that’s mostly about childhood to a second about the byproducts of sustained and stubborn adolescence to a story about a man coming to terms with his failure at adulthood.
I didn’t imagine a trilogy when I was writing the stories in Venus Drive. But you’re correct in exempting The Subject Steve because that’s a different animal. It’s obviously the least autobiographical book. But yeah, absolutely, looking back, Venus Drive is about childhood and teenage years and a little after that, Home Land is about dealing with being 33, and The Ask is about finally being what this culture calls an adult but failing at it. Maybe I just have no imagination, but it’s very possible that I need to stay close to what I’ve just processed.
The other common thread is the dangers of institutions, these intangible oppressors that influence our lives in so many ways we cannot control.
That idea actually connects The Subject Steve back to the rest. There’s the medical-industrial complex and the institution of a cultish organization in that book. I think that you’ve hit on something. In my books there are always characters pushing against and being folded into—and their anxiety about being folded into—these institutions.
Most of your protagonists are truthful in a way that’s detrimental to them, but they still can’t help themselves even when they come to this realization. Lying and passive-aggressiveness have always seemed like wastes of time and energy to me. Yet I feel like you have to be a good liar to write successful fiction.
Well, fiction involves lying. You know how they say the best lies are the ones closest to the truth? If you want to try to get away with something, and you have to cook up a story to cover your ass, the more it has to do with the truth the better the lie will be. There’s maybe some parallel with fiction. But you have to make things up to get to the greater truths.
What’s your daily level of honesty outside of your writing?
There are different kinds of honesty. I don’t go around and scream in everyone’s face about his or her hypocrisies because I don’t think that’s necessarily useful, and who am I to talk? But, you know, I really don’t lie, and I don’t think it’s out of some innate goodness. It’s total laziness.
I wonder if compulsive liars feel exhausted all the time.
It’s just not that stressful if you’re not lying. I’m so precious about my ability to focus on my work, and the time I can carve out to do what I want to do, that the added anxiety of trying to maintain some domestic lie would really make me unravel. I couldn’t handle it. It’s much easier to tell the truth, as long as you haven’t committed a major crime.
Lying to authority figures is the only instance when it’s acceptable. That’s my rule.
Or if you’re dealing with a large institution that doesn’t have your interests in mind. I’ve had various sorts of institutional manifestations where I’ve had people say, “Lie about that. Otherwise the paperwork won’t go through.” You should also lie to insurance companies.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the way you use dreams in your stories. They seem to have their own parameters within the scope of the larger narrative.
When I write a dream I try not to make it too dreamlike because that can be really boring. But then dream logic is really interesting. You can somehow get the jarring juxtapositions that actually are following some strange logic within the dream, which can be quite effective in fiction. I was talking to someone about lucid dreaming, and he told me, and I don’t know if this stuff is true, but if you look at your watch in a dream it’ll either not have numbers on it or it’ll have one number. Look at it again, it’ll be five hours later. Maybe that’s what Dalí was after with The Persistence of Memory. But you don’t want to have a dream sequence where there’s a melting clock or things are too hallucinatory or demented in a mannered way. Writing dreams is tricky. There’s a saying: Write a dream, lose a reader. But I still like to write dreams for my characters. I like to use the logic without the clichéd iconography of dreams. For instance, the stuff about the character who is a professional masturbator in Home Land. It’s unclear whether it’s all part of a dream or a supernatural visitation. That was kind of fun to do, operating in that territory. I never resolved it. Except that he did leave a token puddle of jizz, which was my homage to a Twilight Zone type of thing. “It wasn’t real, but here’s the boot buckle he left behind.”
Every critic mentions the sharp wit and humor of your writing. Making someone laugh out loud using words and ink on a page is a very difficult think to do, and you do it very uniquely and well. But the thing that really amazes me is your timing. You don’t have nearly as many tools at your disposal as an actor or stand-up comic, but you consistently pull it off. Is this sense of timing something that can be taught and developed or is it innate?
The page is very different than what a stand-up comic does. A comedian has a physical body—gestures, vocal intonations, double takes—whatever they’re going to do to bring across the comedy. They can make a phrase funny just by the way they say it. Authors don’t have any of those tools at our disposal, so we have to find lingual ways to do it. So much of it is how you build to something, how wide you make a loop of description before you veer off and land somewhere totally unrelated. You have to learn how that rhythm works in prose. It has to be something you feel.
I don’t want it to be too jokey, I don’t want it to be making claims for itself as funny, but then you must laugh because it is a funny moment. I pursue… something strange, usually, in every paragraph. It may be funny, or it may be something I don’t think is that funny. I’ve had people come up to me and say, “That was so funny!” and I think, “Dude, that’s the most devastating moment in the book.” I’ve realized that it’s both. In my work the funniest thing is usually the most devastating thing, and that’s where they play with each other.
Who do you think is funny?
I can name a bunch of writers who make me laugh: Barry Hannah, Stanley Elkin, Martin Amis, and Thomas Bernhard in his wacky way. There’s stuff by Gordon Lish that has me on the floor, but it’s also emotionally ruinous. He’s incredible in that way. There’s a playwright named Will Eno who is amazing. His work is also funny and devastating. And then there are actual comics like Marc Maron, who’s a friend of mine. He’s so good at bringing the audience to their lowest point, where they’re ready to attack, and then carrying them to these heights. Louis CK’s stand-up is sharp stuff. I think one of my favorite people is Chris Morris, who’s a British comedian. Although I guess he’s not really a comedian. He’s more a comic writer and television maker. Shows like Brass Eye have been a great influence.
I want to talk about “The Dungeon Master,” a new short story of yours that ran in the New Yorker in October. For those who haven’t read it yet, it’s about a group of high school students so uncool they’ve been shunned by the Dungeons & Dragons club and forced to play at the house of an aggressive and mentally deranged senior. My younger brother was addicted to World of Warcraft for three years, and I’m not using the A-word lightly. I know video games are a bit different, especially because they usurp any type of imaginative aspect traditional RPGs require, but it amazed me how spot-on you were with the kids’ behaviors. I thought you might have slipped a camera into my brother’s bedroom at some point. The Dungeon Master’s tantrums and the way he talks to his father were so on point they spooked me. What was the inspiration? Do you know people who are into this type of stuff?
I just got an email from somebody about it saying, “Your story nauseated me.” That was the first line, and I think it was because it resonated in some way. It takes place before video games were a big deal. So they’re just lost in their graph-paper-and-pencil-and-dice world, but it’s kind of the same thing. And, yeah, I did know people like that. I don’t at the moment, but I did—people who have been into those things. It seeps in. My brother-in-law was getting addicted to one of the games where you’re building your house and fighting warriors and burying your treasure or whatever—growing your crops—I don’t even know, I don’t play. I remember my sister came down to him at three in the morning and said, “Are you coming to bed? What’s going on?” And he looked up and said, “You don’t understand. I’m getting stronger.” [laughs] I know I could get there. That’s kind of why I don’t go in. I’ve seen ads for games that look so good to me, and I’ve thought, “I could give up the job and the family and abscond with what little is left in our savings account and just hole up somewhere and do this. And then die.” I could see myself doing that, so I just steer clear of it.
I had a creative-writing professor in college who I really liked, but he went on and on about how the art of the short story died a long time ago and no one cares anymore except other authors. While that may have been the case 20 years ago, I think we’re headed the other way now. Short stories are becoming more fashionable as people’s attention spans get shorter and screens replace paper as the preferred reading medium. What do you think?
I don’t know. Everyone’s been saying that the narrative form of the future is going to be the short story because nobody will have the patience for a novel, but that doesn’t seem to be the case right now. When people buy a video game they’re locking in for 70 hours to play it. When they buy a book they’re locking in the same way. Novels are still the beast, the thing that sells. There is a home for a lot of short fiction because of the internet, and that’s great. Some of it is wonderful and a lot of it is horrible, just like the stuff that’s in print. But, yes, people have the chance now to innovate a little bit with the form. The key is no one is going to make any money doing any of this. If everyone’s cool with that, these things can flourish.
During the photo shoot before this interview you mentioned that you’re working on your next book, another story collection. I always wondered how these work. Your stories have appeared in the New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Harper’s, and lots of other places. What’s the editing process like when it’s time to compile them into a book? Do you just slap them in there the same as they ran in the magazines, or are there serious revisions made?
When you get the collection together you’re still taking it to your book editor. So whatever happened to the stories beforehand, that editor has a chance to look at it as a whole and make suggestions and give some edits. That’s why you’ll often see, if you look closely at a collection of short stories, a list somewhere of where they were first published. It’ll often say, “This story appeared in slightly or partially different form in Harper’s” or something, because things change. I have new ideas about the story. So I’m including some stories that I may have published three or four or even five years ago. When I look at one of those for a collection, maybe that’s not the story I want in the book right now and maybe I want to rewrite it and revisit it.
What sorts of short stories do you recommend to your students?
This year my undergraduate class focused on short stories. I started them off with fundamental stuff, some Chekhov and early Flannery O’Connor and some Isaac Babel. I gave them some Katherine Mansfield. I really like her stories. We’re doing an eclectic bunch of stories. Some are older, some are more recent—it’s all just stuff I’ve liked.
I get the impression that you thoroughly enjoy teaching. Was that surprising for you? I know you didn’t do the typical MFA thing after graduating.
I like teaching a great deal. When I got out of college I didn’t want to go the MFA route. I didn’t want to see myself enslaved by some goddamn institution, you know? “That’s not gonna be me, man!” So I did a lot of other things. I worked at FEED for years and freelanced and did other odd jobs. But at one point, about seven, eight years ago, I was invited to visit Ben Marcus’s class here at Columbia and I liked it. I liked talking to him. Then I got the chance to teach a class as an adjunct. I’d been doing a little teaching before out in Queens, at this kind of art space, and I was discovering that I liked teaching. So I got a real job here. I was lucky. It’s hard to get your own work done during certain points of the year, so summers are my big time. But I think that if I made tons of money from my writing and didn’t have to teach, I’d still keep my hand in. I would teach a class.
How do you beat tics out of a writer?
The hardest thing is recognizing your tic. In a way, that’s what workshops are good for. You recognize the tics in other people. Then you say, “Oh, I do something like that.” I think that’s useful because to a writer it’s not necessarily a tic, it’s your game. It’s your strength. You think of it as your go-to move. Other people may think of it as a tic, but you think of it as the asset, the thing that’s going to put you over. And then there are tics that are more unconscious, but I guess by definition a tic is unconscious. These are the ones other people have to point out until you recognize what you’re doing.
What kind of tics do you watch out for in your own stuff?
I don’t have any. [laughs]
Good answer. I’d like to close out the interview by asking a few very specific questions about your books. The first one is about a scene in The Ask. At one of his lowest points Milo is fighting with his wife and ends up spending the night at a young colleague’s place in Bushwick, which is basically a flophouse with stalls separated by chicken wire. Milo is awoken by his coworker, who is fucking a girl from behind in the next stall. After watching them for a second, Milo sticks his finger through the chicken wire, up to the girl’s face. When I first read this it made me laugh harder than I had in a long time, but it also majorly creeped me out. Where does this kind of stuff come from?
That’s something that just sort of happened while I was writing. I’m not sure I can explain it, but it felt right.
It felt right?
What I’m most looking for is the thing that’s right because it’s wrong in the right way. I just tried to think, “What would I do in that situation?”
The most disturbing part is that Milo’s intentions—and now I can safely say your intentions as well—were left mostly unexplained. What was he after? A delicate suckle?
I guess he was just searching for some kind of connection. I think he wanted a nice charge.
OK. I think I might be even more conflicted about the whole thing now, but we’ll move on. The other thing I wanted to ask you about is from Home Land. Lewis and Gary, two of the main characters, use the word normie a lot. What does that word mean to them?
They talk about normies like they’re outside the oppressive system and cookie-cutter life and all the bullshit that everyone else is eating. It’s a way to bolster their egos and create some distance between themselves and society, but Gary’s girlfriend, Mira, calls them out on it. She says, “You guys are normies too, so you should stop using the word.”
The last question was just a setup for this one: If you had to guess, what kind of books do you think normies read?
Well, I hope they read Sam Lipsyte books. .
The paperback edition of The Ask will be available in March 2011 along with a new edition of the currently out-of-print The Subject Steve. Buy them both and enjoy, normies.