“Show Recent Some Love”
by Sam Lipsyte
from the November 19, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

Oh boy, it feels like forever since we last had Sam Lipsyte in The New Yorker. Going back and reading my posts from 2010 to 2012, it is clear that Lipsyte and I just were not on the same page when we got more of his work; in fact, every story felt worse than the last.

Of course, some of this was on me. You know how it can be: once you start to dislike an author’s work it is hard to give yet another story a fair shake. Betsy, on the other hand, was contributing regularly to the New Yorker responses back then, and she took to him. I see a comment she made from May 2014 where she says, “I’m a little flustered to see how much you didn’t like it [. . . .] This guy really is not your cup of tea.” Betsy then goes on to offer many reasons to find value that I was overlooking.

It’s been years since I read Lipsyte. To be honest, I’m curious if I’ve given myself enough space to approach “Give Recent Some Love” with a clear head and without preconceptions.

Then again, I read the first paragraph:

At this juncture, in this environment, only an ogre could defend Mike Matlby, and Isaac was not quite the ogre type. Maybe more on the order of a jerk, according to Nina. As a human being, a woman, and his life partner, she added, she felt it was crucial that she make this distinction. All men, yes. But not all men in all ways.

The first two sentences are fine, and clearly we are looking at another story that will look at the world with #MeToo. After that, though, it all starts to feel disjointed and vague to me, the last two sentences, in particular.

I think this is a stylistic thing, and it might work for many. Maybe it would work for me if I didn’t have a bit of wariness to Lipsyte’s work.

So what do you all think? Please let me know below, and I’ll work on giving it

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By |2018-11-12T15:27:18+00:00November 12th, 2018|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Sam Lipsyte|Tags: |11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. David November 13, 2018 at 12:02 am

    This story is a bit of a mess overall. It’s like someone read “Ways and Means” from a few months ago and tried to make a worse version of it. The disgraced man is more a stereotype here. In both the main character is a former underling who had a personal relationship to the disgraced man (this time an ex-step-son, not an ex-girlfriend), has a secret meeting with him, and is asked to help him out. But let’s throw in the homeless couple because … why? I guess this is a story about Isaac and what kind of person he is, but he’s ultimately not that interesting.
    .
    There’s some pretty bad writing in all this, too. I don’t know if this was an editing error or what, but the first sentence of the third paragraph makes no sense. It reads, “Ask Isaac, it was definitely for the best.” Maybe it is an intentional comma splice, but then why would the narrator be telling us to ask Isaac something?
    .
    But for me the worst writing moment was when Lipsyte decided to employ an idiotic cliche usually reserved for bad TV shows or films. Molly, talking about the homeless couple says, “They’re nice. They gave me—” and then Isaac jumps in and says “They gave you what? What did they give you? Molly, did they hurt you? What did they give you?” Well, dummy, if you hadn’t interrupted her, Molly was just about to say what it was they gave her. But please, do stop her from answering your question so you can dramatically ask it and show how anxious you are. Good grief!

  2. pauldepstein November 13, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    I’m a huge fan of this story! My problem is that I’m not at all a literary person and am heavily involved with software development and simply don’t have the time to be as thoughtful as the other participants.
    For me, the key reason why I appreciated it is the subtlety with which the various
    power dynamics are played out. Lots of hierarchies here with the homeless couple in
    some sense at the bottom, but then again maybe not, because they had the lead pipe.
    It felt very realistic and enlightening that the daughter knew Doug’s name.
    At the end of it all, I felt like “Wow, such rich characters and this really all makes sense.”

    Paul

  3. Ken November 18, 2018 at 2:21 am

    I was able to finish this, unlike last weeks “Cattle Praise Song,” but I found this just as uninteresting. Isaac may be potentially interesting–many of us are more bystanders than active participants–but we don’t really develop his interior life all that well here even though, I believe, it’s what Lipsyte is trying to do. The situations and milieu are excruciatingly familiar to New Yorker readers and nothing here–whether #Me Too or gentrification or dealing with an aging parents–is particularly original or explored in much depth. Still…there is a breezy wit about this that made it readable.

  4. Larry Bone November 18, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    “Show Recent Some Love” is a heads and tails kind of short story.  On the tails side, it seems way overworked and generally unfocused.  On the heads side, the fuzzy unfocussedness morphs into an anatomy of desperate people at all levels of our society. 

    These days regular people seem crazy desperate for higher achievement.  They tend to weaponize almost everything they say, are ceaselessly rude, superficial and highly hypercritical of everyone and everything.  It seems all part of our chronic, deconstructive social devolution that makes life so difficult these days for everyone.

    I think Paul has some excellent insights on what is going on in this story when talks of it in terms of “hierarchies”.  A literary viewpoint is only one way to view a short story.  The strength of this website is how it is open to more diverse viewpoints and a software background viewpoint is maybe more relevant to this story than a literary one. 

    On the tails side it introduces 3 characters in the first paragraph which is usually a writing no-no.  The writer totally ignores the reader in how he introduces so many characters with virtually no background to help the reader understand them.  Supposedly a writer can “get away” with that if he uses essencial factual detail or choice character defining characteristics.  But to a reader this tends toward characture or stereotyping.

    Then there is the somewhat illogical nonsequiter overcompressed (like the title) train of thought in these characters.  The unfocus part of it seems that though it is about the metoo movement, it seems really more about the more basic degeneration of people in every strata of society that leads to what the metoo movement is trying to correct.

    The best part of this story is part of the power monologue:

    “And don’t tell me about power in the workplace. That’s all that exists in the workplace. That’s all the workplace is for. For some people to exercise their power to do what they want, to create what they want, to profit how they want, and to experience pleasure and joy, or at least a momentary cessation of anxiety, how they want. All kinds of people. All kinds of power. What the hell do you think capitalism is?”

    According to the theme of this story people are born into a life filled with the anxiety that they will not earn fantastic amounts of money, not experience enough great sex that their gender (or what their physical hardware and glandular secretions demand for them).  Their survival solely depends on how successful they are at suppressing all those around them (at any socioeconomic level).

    I miss the legendary New Yorker Editor William Shawn.  Because he would have seen where this writer was headed and probably would have gently suggested how some of the offpoint description and dialogue could either be dropped out or reworked so the story more logically and efficiently builds towards what this writer most wants to communicate.

  5. Brian Glover November 19, 2018 at 1:25 am

    I guess I see what some people here are calling “disjointed and vague,” or “unfocused,” and I can see how if you weren’t a fan of Lipsyte, you might not like it — but to me, the best thing about his style is that it gives us a constant sense that the main character can’t quite understand what’s going on around him. It’s true of all his characters, really, from Milo Burke in _The Ask_ to Isaac here. They’re not guys with a clear vision of the world — they’re guys who are just dimly aware of the big picture around them. And that’s why I like them.

    David, you seem unfamiliar with idiomatic American English. In the sentence “Ask Isaac, it was definitely for the best,” “Ask Isaac” is common conversational shorthand for “If you were to ask Isaac, he’d say that.” Maybe that’s a New York phrase, though? Personally, I find Lipsyte’s writing perfectly wrought.

  6. William November 20, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    I’m glad that I waited a while to comment on this story. Pretty much everything that I was thinking has already been said.

    I particularly like Larry Bone’s characterization of this piece as a “heads and tails kind of story”. I agree with David that Isaac is “ultimately not that interesting.” Also with Brian Glover that the story “gives us a constant sense that the main character can’t quite understand what’s going on around him.”

    I also liked Larry Bone’s reassurance to pauldepstein that “A literary viewpoint is only one way to view a short story.” I’ve had a career as a scientist and medical journalist. I don’t feel that disqualifies me from expressing my opinion. Also, I think that pauldepstein is right – in a way the story is a about power dynamics, as Larry Bone also stated: “The best part of the story is the power monologue” by Mike Maltby.

    I’d like to add some thoughts about the title and the name “Isaac”, which are closely interrelated. In the story, “recent” refers literally to Isaac’s daughter’s most recent video. More obliquely it refers to Isaac. He is the most recent – i.e., the youngest – of the three male characters. More important, he is the most recent generation, the generation that has to adapt to major social changes. Both of the other male characters are unabashedly and unapologetically aggressive and forceful. Isaac, in contrast, is not supposed to act that way. (Doug’s narrative function is to widen the focus of the story from simply female mistreatment to the broader theme of a young man trying to craft an acceptable contemporary viewpoint or attitude.) Isaac is an inheritor of while male privilege, so he is expected to be the New Man. He has to defer to the homeless Doug, who roundly abuses him. And he is unable to stand strongly against his former father-in-law/former boss, Maltby, who is unrepentant and still dominates him. Isaac recalls that Maltby considered him a “weenie”. Isaac has been raised with the power dynamic. And he is a male, so he has an inherent impulse to force/conflict/combat. Yet he is forbidden by current culture from exercising it.

    Now let’s look at his name, Isaac, as in the Abraham and Isaac story in the Torah. We know much about Abraham, but what do we know about Isaac? Virtually nothing. He is a passive pseudo-victim, just like his namesake in Lipsyte’s story. In the Torah, Isaac is more of a symbol or cipher or game piece, rather than a fully fledged character. In Lipsyte’s story, Isaac is quite similar to that. More of a representative than an actor, Isaac is referred to in various places as a “bystander” and a “passerby.” It is difficult to identify or care about a cipher/counter/symbol, which perhaps explains much of the weakness of the story.

    Two of my favorite lines:

    ‘”We tried help,” Beth said. “It’s not very helpful.”’

    And:

    “The Mike Maltbys of the world didn’t understand women, for example, but they understood the Isaacs, shared some of the same craven strains The were just meaner, stronger.”

  7. David November 21, 2018 at 9:13 am

    William, that was a great comment. I like both your analysis of the title and of the name “Isaac”. I don’t know if Lipsyte was thinking those things when he wrote this, but of he wasn’t, he should have been.

  8. William November 21, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks, David. I agree that we can’t know the intent of the author. But what we bring to the story can make it richer for us.

  9. Larry Bone November 21, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    I think William’s comment really unlocks this story in terms of what the writer means for us to understand or what he actually sees occuring. Moreover, it even brings a lot more subtle clarity to the whole me too movement in terms of what is actually happening if looked at closely. Whether the writer intended it or not, he made some really good choices that makes this story be about more than it at first seems. Isaac seems an odd name but for its significance which William deftly explains when most every reader would have missed it. And the story would suffer. It is kind of amazing that Isaac is sort of a modern existential character from the Torah. Sort of how Hamlet and Lear are in a way, modern existential characters from Shakespeare. How should one exist as a man? Should certain of the species be allowed to gain ascendence over one and all for their own happiness. Or should he suppress the worst parts of his innate nature for the greater benefit of family, peers and all strata of our society or culture? Don’t know the answer but I think William’s comment makes really valid observations that the social cultural experts haven’t discussed but should.

  10. William November 22, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Larry —

    Thanks for those kind words And thanks for extending what I said to a larger, Shakesperean, question — “How should one exist as a man?” It’s a perennial question Freud had some good things to say about how society tames the male impulse in “Society and Its Discontents”, in one of the later chapters.

  11. Larry Bone December 1, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    William,

    Thanks for your suggestion of looking into the last chapters of Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents” to answer the question of how a man should live in today’s Me-To era indirectly brought up in the short story, “Show Recent Some Love.”

    Freud is such a categorical guy or discusses life in such broad categorical terms that it was difficult to get any kind of answer. The best I could get out of it emerges from the following quote, “the prevention of an erotic satisfaction calls up a piece of aggressiveness against the person who has interfered with the satisfaction, and that this aggressiveness has itself to be suppressed in turn.”

    So maybe the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness. Freud’s viewpoint seems to be “the very thing that makes us happiest — (is) sexual love”. So maybe overtly aggressive guys can use Freud’s theory as their justification for
    any aggression as being instinctual and therefore “natural” and okay because it is inate and part of his “ego.”

    The only way man can contain himself is the following:

    “Feelings of guilt and even some repressed aggressiveness are necessary conditions for the projection outward of our primitive impulses and the harnessing of them for social purposes.” . . . ”

    Which Freud ties into Shakeseare’s “Hamlet” with the line, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all . . . .”

    But Freud frames the development of the individual in terms of “the urge towards happiness, which we usually call ‘egotistic’, and the urge towards union with others in the community, which we call ‘altruistic’.

    So a guy’s survival or how he should live will be better served by more of the latter then the former.

    Freud hated religious commandments like “Love thy neighbor as thyself” because he viewed as a man suppressing his own innate sexual aggression.

    But to the extent a man can love another from the viewpoint of his happiness as similar to the other’s happiness may be how such individual suppression can used to accomplish better survival.

    I like “Show Recent Some Love” because it brings up a man’s dilemma. If it were expanded into a book, we also might get Nina’s or the woman’s viewpoint on the man’s dilemma or behavior.

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