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The Morning News and Powells Present
2006 Tournament of Books
APRIL 7, 2006
I’ll admit to be being a bit intimidated by Home Land. I’d heard such good things about it, and even before I’d read it I had recommended it to a friend with similar tastes. Apparently, that’s the last recommendation she’ll be taking from me; she had a really hard time with it, and found the protagonist way too unpleasant. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: Can unsympathetic characters be compelling? Do I like books with unpleasant characters? Or am I like the people in a recent survey who wanted to rewrite Tess of the D’Urbervilles to give it a happy ending?

So I was somewhat surprised to find myself taken with the story of Lewis Miner, member of the class of ‘89, the guy who “did not pan out.” I wouldn’t say I particularly liked him. He can be unpleasant; he’s certainly an overwhelming presence, and spending so much time with him takes a lot out of you.

How does Sam Lipsyte get me to care about such a flawed person? Darned if I can figure it out. Teabag is this big wreck of a character, with his manic letters to the alumni magazine, his disaster of a life. But his story felt more full of life than a lot of likable characters I’ve read lately.
How does Sam Lipsyte get me to care about
such a flawed person? Darned if I can
figure it out.
The History of Love is an exquisite book—at its best, the type of novel I wanted to read with a pen in hand so I could underline sentences, star paragraphs. But, and I think this is especially true when read alongside Home Land, the characters and their stories feel constructed, not lived in. I wouldn’t be all surprised to bump into Lewis Miner in the grocery store, but I can’t see Leo Gursky existing off the pages of The History of Love. I guess at the end of the day, at least this day, I’ll take life over art.

The Peanut Gallery
Do you agree with the judge’s opinion?
Hell yeah! Good call.     Hell no! The ref’s blind!     Go