A ridiculous number of books published recently have been about Trump. Similarly, just about every article published on any topic lately seems to include a reference to the sheer agony of living in a world where Trump is President. And here’s a critic disappointed that a new novel set in the near future about a fictional self-improvement cult isn’t about Trump. From The Atlantic’s print edition (which is usually usually written by grown-ups, while much of the online stuff is written by interns):
Sam Lipsyte’s Lame Send-up of a Guru and His Acolytes
In Hark, the characters are distracted, and their author veers between satire and sincerity.
A. O. SCOTT
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019 ISSUE
Scott is the better of the NYT’s two main film critics.
Lipsyte writes amusing semi-satirical how-we-live-now novels like The Ask, which was about working for the NYU development office. He’s the son of engagée sportswriter Robert Lipsyte, but seems to lack his dad’s simplistic confidence about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
The novel’s tone and premise point toward satire, a mode that depends on accurate aim and swift, sharp impact. Lipsyte has a full quiver and a range of targets that include cosmopolitan culinary trends, urban-parenting dogmas, digital-workplace dynamics, and the arrogance of the technocratic ruling class. But satire is especially hard to pull off right now, its objects at once too obvious and too obtuse for effective puncturing. The dystopian imagination, looking for intimations of disaster that might be exaggerated for cautionary or corrective ends, finds itself beggared by reality on a daily basis.
Lipsyte, casting his eye toward a semi-plausible near future, has an astute ear for corporate and therapeutic idioms and how they echo each other. He knows the habits and attitudes of world-beaters and slackers alike. The universe of Hark looks pretty familiar, although politics, the bane and boon of most contemporary satirists, receives little more than a lazy, glancing shot:
He’s not an evil man, this president, nor a good one. He was elected to undo the catastrophic policies of his predecessor, who was herself elected to undo the apocalyptic agenda of the man before her, but it all seems too late for that these days, mostly because it’s always been too late, though now, pundits agree, this moment is steeped in a radical and irrevocable lateness, a tardy totality heretofore unseen.
An update flashes: president has not ruled out ground forces in Bulgaria.
That’s enough of that, just so we’re clear on what and whom Hark is not about.
In other words, this novel (the first from Lipsyte since 2012) is not about Trump. That violates the standing order: All Hands on Deck. Denouncing Trump is the only legitimate subject of any cultural work in the Current Year.