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“The Subject Steve” is a good read”

It has been said that the ideal work of fiction, from the creative standpoint, writes itself. So when a writer sets out to deconstruct the process, at what point does the work become self-conscious or contrived?

At the outset of Brooklyn-based author Sam Lipsyte’s first novel, “The Subject Steve,” it looks as if Lipsyte will fall into the trap. “The Subject Steve” starts off full of tricky language and contrived dialogue, not allowing for descriptive development of setting, and leaving the character’s utterances to serve as jump-off point for the narrative. But by the end the reader is fully caught up in the whirlwind of this postmodern world that Lipsyte so easily deconstructs.

The subject Steve (is Steve his real name?) is diagnosed with an unknowable disease, discovered festering in him by a pair of methamphetamine-dependent quacks initially identified only as the Philosopher and the Mechanic. Steve then watches his best friend gruesomely and mysteriously die, and soon finds himself at the mercy of relentless cult leader Heinrich, a man of too many words and definitely cruel intentions, who seems to have plans for Steve.

Lipsyte’s work, while dragged down at times by an overabundance of side characters, finds its strength in a wacky, yet engrossing storyline. At once a critique of the information age and reality TV, as well as a meditation on what it really means to be alive – is Steve’s illness merely an acute case of middle class boredom? – “The Subject Steve” is pure fun, fun with language, fun with dead-pan humor and certainly alive.

Lipsyte works every angle as if he knows it well, and leaves no doubt that he does. He is a critic of American culture on par with Boyle, but with Auster’s sense of the absurd and even a Lynchian talent for the true but undeniably unreal and horrific.

“The Subject Steve” is a postmodern novel, but it builds upon all that came before it. And yes, this is a story that reads like it wrote itself.