THE SUBJECT STEVE

Sam Lipsyte, Author
Sam Lipsyte, Author . Broadway $23.95 (272p) ISBN 0-7679-0885-6
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Lipsyte's latest is a dark satire in which a protagonist named Steve is diagnosed with a vague but deadly disease called Prexis that sounds suspiciously like terminal boredom with modern life. Steve's doctors, two shadowy figures known only as the Mechanic and the Philosopher, try a variety of equally vague experimental treatments on him until their programs are exposed as fraudulent. His bizarre illness sets off a panic and a media frenzy, and Steve finds himself drawn to a clinic in upstate New York called the Center for Non-Denominational Recovery and Redemption run by a shady former torture expert known only as Heinrich of Newark, who uses pain-based "treatments." The cultish clinic proves equally ineffective, so Steve takes a couple of stabs at alternative medicine before heading west into the desert to join a futuristic cult called the Realm, where he prepares to meet his maker through a strange series of therapy sessions and off-the-wall broadcasts. In the stretches between the erratic and often bizarre plot twists, the author explores the disaffections of a divorced middle-aged man, delving into his professional disappointments, the emptiness of his marriage and love life, and the death of his best friend. Lipsyte (Venus Drive) has come up with an intriguing experimental concept, but the absence of coherent, linear plot means the commentary must be particularly sharp and interesting, and much of what Lipsyte offers is rambling, self-absorbed and at times just plain annoying. The troubles of the alienated and estranged offer plenty of opportunities for an adventurous approach, but much of what Lipsyte submits is familiar, a mannered echo, product of a sensibility halfway between Lish and Vonnegut. (Sept. 11)

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