Venus Drive

Venus Drive

5.0 1
by Sam Lipsyte
     
 

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An intense, mordantly funny collection of short fiction from the author of Home Land and The Ask.

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Overview

An intense, mordantly funny collection of short fiction from the author of Home Land and The Ask.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lipsyte's first short story collection gathers together 13 ferocious, truncated sketches, parading before the reader various semi-addicts, telemarketers and others suffering a terminal disconnect between their skills and their status. Not that Lipsyte's characters are going to choose the traditional American way out of their economic impasse, i.e., some mixture of sycophancy and labor. Disconnection, here, is style. Lipsyte's winners tend to achieve ephemeral glory as punk rockers or e-zine magnates before burning out. The narrator of "My Life, for Promotional Use Only" is a worn-out postpunk legend now working for his ex-girlfriend, Rosalie, in an office where everyone is eager to advance. "The people I work with are human r sum s. They are fluent in every computer language, boast degrees in marketing and medieval song. They snowboard on everything but snow. They study esoteric forms of South American combat and go on all-deer diets." The '90s prosperity is perceived as an alien excrescence. From "Admiral of the Swiss Navy" or "The Drury Girl," where the dark view of suburban childhoods predominates, to "Old Soul," the first story, about the narrator's sister's death from cancer, these people take the world much too seriously and yet risk things much too lightly. In "Beautiful Game," Gary is out on parole for possession; though he makes a living selling coke, he was actually arrested for trying to stop a cop from beating a street vendor. His mother wants him to meet a girl she's invited to a party. This almost invisible plot suggests a world of attitude. Gary, for instance, who is obviously wasting his life, won't waste an O'Douls because "it'd be wrong." Such collateral ironies make these stories simultaneously funny and disheartening. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Christine Muhlke
Not for the faint of heart (or soul), Venus Drive explores the complexity of despair with poignancy and sly wit.
The New York Times Book Review
James Hannaham
It's fascinating to read a writer who can bring you so efficiently to such uncomfortable places.
The Village Voice
Kirkus Reviews
Debut sheaf of short stories by a minimalist in the style of Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish, master of the preshrunk sentence. Lipsyte no doubt will demonstrate greater range in years to come, but at the moment he shows off the prose equivalent of three chords on a one-string guitar—a feat of some kind. He has no qualms about hanging the reader up on a sentence whose sense has gone south, nor are his themes all that clear. One reads some of the pieces here wondering if they will come into focus before brain-fog sets in. Paradoxically, the surface of a Lipsyte story, paragraph by paragraph, looks as easily taken in as a telegram. In "Admiral of the Swiss Navy," for example, a fat boy is so tormented one summer by fellow campers that he kills himself. Then the narrator tells us how he himself later gained weight and got picked on, perhaps as a means of assuaging his guilt. That much is subtle but clear. Much more is unclear: a severe diet, the beautiful and eager, semi-evil people out to destroy each other, how time passes swiftly while dieting. There's no denying Lipsyte's steel grip on language, and his ironies do hit home, if you can call a tone of half-smiling but unrelieved grievance-with-life a success. Best moment: a druggie (in "Cremains") shoots up a mix of morphine and his mother's ashes.

From the Publisher
“Not for the faint of heart (or soul), Venus Drive explores the complexity of despair with poignancy and sly wit.” —-Christine Muhlke, The New York Times Book Review

"I like it when short stories—metaphorically speaking, of course—smack me in the face, kind of like what Kafka said about art being like an axe. And so that’s what Sam Lipsyte’s stories do—they come at you like a fist, they knock you around, they make you wince, they make you look away, and then they make you look back."—Jonathan Ames, author of Wake Up, Sir!

"These are torqued-up, enthusiastically black-hearted stories by a grimly cheerful author. And the damned things are queerly rather loving and lovely as well. Bukowski meets Paley."—Padgett Powell, author of The Interrogative Mood

"Lipsyte captures flashes of his characters’ complex, addled humanity and smashes a window into their hopelessness.... It’s fascinating to read a writer who can bring you so efficiently to such uncomfortable places."—James Hannaham, The Village Voice (rated one of the Voice's top twenty-five books of the year 2000)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781890447250
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
05/28/2000
Pages:
164
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.52(d)

Meet the Author

Sam Lipsyte was born in 1968. He has also written The Subject Steve and Home Land, winner of The Believer book award. He lives in Astoria, Queens.

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


You could touch for a couple of bucks. The window of the booth went up and you stuck out the bills. They might tell you not to pinch, but I was a stroke type anyway. Some guys, I guess they want to leave a mark. Me, I just like the feel.

    I went over there on the way to see my sister. There was a lit-up eye with an eyebrow over the door, a guy in front with a change belt, an apron that said Peep City. Peeptown was up the block. They didn't have an eyebrow over the eye over there.

    Why do they make these places so dark? I like to cop tit in the light. Guess I have no shame. Maybe I got through shame a long time ago. Somebody said I had an old soul, which I took to mean I'm older than I am, or that I've been places I haven't been.

    You could hardly see in there, in Peep City, and all that disco, that ammonia, it made me sick. I looked around for a girl with a good set, one who would maybe tell me I was sweet. Sometimes they asked about handjobs, blowjobs, all the jobs, but I never wanted to go that far. I felt sorry for them. Somebody told me they were exploited. Me, I always paid in full.

    This time, just to break habit, I went for what one of them had down below, a few bucks more. She was a giant with plenty on the chest, but I put a fivespot out. She swiveled on the ledge, pushed an ass dusted with glitter out over the sill. I palmed her there, thumbed a pimple near the crack. What am I paying for this for? I thought, thumbing it.

    The giant was talking to another girl pressed against her on the ledge. Theother girl was a sway of hair that moved like a metronome. The sway took on the color of the strobes.

    "What's he doing down there?" said the other girl.

    "Jeez, nothing," said the giant.

    I dug a knuckle in.

    "What the fuck," the giant said. The blind was buzzing shut.

    "Prick," she said.

    There was a bucket near the door with soapy water in it. I got down like you do for a shoelace, dipped my knuckle in the bucket. The man in the apron came up.

    "I got ass germs on it," I said.

    I figured it was Peeptown from now on.


    There were still a few hours before my sister's visiting hours were over, so I went to visit a friend. This was the guy who explained to me how the girls in Peep City were exploited. The ones in Peeptown, too. He worked the graveyard in the shipping room of a superstore. Another year, he told me, and they might let him come upstairs. He worked mornings in his apartment, stuffing envelopes, selling pot. A guy like that, you hope he has a secret calling, or maybe a guitar. But Gary just wanted to live. Or maybe he thought he wanted to be free. Some do.

    When I got there Gary loaded up a pipe and passed it over. I told him all about Peep City, the pimple, the girl.

    "You should stay away from that place," said Gary.

    "I don't have much choice now," I said.

    "All those places, man. Your soul is sick."

    "I thought you said I had an old soul," I said. "Now it's sick"

    "It's an old sick fuck," said Gary. "Go see your sister. You're going to be sorry you didn't see her."

    "I've got time," I said.


    Time stops, goes, stops again. When you have an old soul like I do, everything gets old really quick. Nothing is new. An avocado, a glass of beer, it all tastes like it's been sitting out on a table too long.

    Gary fell unconscious from all his freedom. I found happy hour somewhere. I knew the bartender, a brush cut from the big one. He was German, the other side. All he had now were a few shelves of New Jersey vodka and a thing about the Jews. I let him rant. I figured with a soul as old as mine, maybe I fragged his brother at the Bulge.

    "I'm an old soul," I told him.

    "Oslo? Fuck it."

    "Not Oslo," I said.

    "No souls," he said. "Fuck it. Norway, too. Odin is a yid."

    A girl in a tank top got up in my lap. She didn't smell, but her shoulders, her hair, they had a dirt sleep shine.

    "You look like that rock star," she said. "Do you get high?"

    "I am high," I said.

    "No, I mean high."

    "Oh," I said. "Sometimes."

    "You're buying," she said.


    We went someplace, her place, her boyfriend's, her mother's, who could tell? You can't tell from a sofa. Or a couch. You can't tell from a coffee table, or a cross on the wall. She took what we bought and locked herself in the bathroom. I was on old soul time. I lost track of bathroom time.

    "Sandy?" I said. She'd know who I meant.

    I was getting ready to break down the door. I was getting ready to be the guy who has to tell the whole story to the police, and maybe get punched by them for being the guy who was there on the soft, the couch. The door opened and Sandy came out, clean and wilted in a towel. Her hair smelled of honey, or hibiscus, one of those. Her eyes were pinned and she handed me a bag, some works.

    "There's bleach in there," she said.

    "No, thanks," I said. "I just want to take a leak."

    I stood over the bowl but I couldn't get flow. When I lie about having to take a piss, I can't piss. I stared at the wallpaper, woodpeckers. On the beaks, or on the breasts of some of them, and on the leaves of trees, was a fine red spray. It was on the rim of the bowl, the tiles, too.

    I went back to what I was sitting on and sat with her.

    "I guess I should blow you," she said.

    "I have to go," I said.

    "Don't leave."

    "You can keep what we bought," I said.

    "You're nice."

    "I'm sweet," I put my hand in her tank top, on whatever her habit hadn't eaten off. "Aren't I sweet?"

    "You're sweet," she said.

    "I have an old soul," I told her.

    "What do you mean?"

    "I'm advanced," I said.

    "I'm intermediate," she said. "I got a badge in camp."


    I took a train uptown to where they were tending to my sister. There's a whole block of enormous buildings for people who are running out of luck. My sister was in the Someone-Someone Pavilion. Ventilator, feeding tube, they had everything in her to keep her from going anywhere.

    There was a guy in the room I knew from somewhere. High school. Homeroom. Guess he had a name with the same first letter as mine. I once caught him with his finger in my sister under the Ping-Pong table. When he saw me that time he pulled his finger out. Don't be a schmuck, I told him, finish up. Now he had his hands on his knees, a book in his lap.

    "Good thing you came," he said.

    "How is she?" I asked.

    Close to the bed, I saw what a dumb question it was. My sister used to be pretty for her type. She was still pretty, if you like girls who are skulls with a little skin on them, a few strands of cotton for hair. It was hard to believe she was going to live another minute. It had been months this way. I wanted to get in the bed, hold her, but I thought I might knock a tube out.

    "Do you mind?" I said to Homeroom.

    I locked the door and sat on the chair, the book. It was something about a process, a grief process. I guess the guy had been boning up.

    "Hey, you," I said. My sister did a snort through her air mask, this noise like everything that had always been my sister was clotted and wet inside her and we might need a tool to scoop it out. I gathered up the covers, slipped my hand under her gown. I knuckled in down there. Her knees opened in her sleep. Her nipple went up. I pushed the tubes off, bit down.

    "Hey, you," I said, into my teeth.


    Sometimes when I tell this story to people, I say my sister opened her eyes for a moment and our souls touched, my old soul and her pretty much dead one. I hope they don't believe it. My sister died a few hours later, but I was far away. I went to Peeptown. The place had really gone downhill. Then I found Gary and we went to the Jew-hater's bar. Gary had a bump nose and took the German's theories badly. Gary, I said, shut up and get a guitar. This place needed strummy music and maybe the hate would go away. I'd seen it happen, in other lives. Sandy was there, loaded, doing lap hustles for the dream of a bundle. Turned out Sandy was the bartender's daughter. Deirdre was her true name. We were together for years and years, here and there. I'm sure she was a whore in the time of Bismarck.

    Her soul is older than mine.

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