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03.05.13

Sam Lipsyte’s Book Bag: Five Bilious, Seriocomic Triumphs

The leading practitioner of the literary equivalent of a black comedy, whose new collection of stories is The Fun Parts, is out to defy the idea that funny can’t be serious. He picks his favorite humorous yet weighty novels.

Sabbath’s Theater
By Philip Roth

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This is one of Roth’s best, and master of puppets Mickey Sabbath is a beautiful outrage. You will never feel the same way again about art, death, love, and sniffing your friend’s daughter’s underwear.

Peru
By Gordon Lish

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Just reissued, this American classic tells the story of young Gordon, who, in 1940, murders Steven Adinoff in Andy Lieblich’s sandbox. It’s a brilliant, terrifying book about violence, language, and memory’s ever-mutating loop. A current of wild, uncompromising humor runs through it all.

Liver
By Will Self

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It would be hard not to include this wonderful story collection, especially with the cirrhotic humor of the first piece, “Foie Humain.” The bile that spews from some of the regulars at the Plantation Club, a tiny, decrepit London bar full of late-stage alcoholics with nicknames like the Cunt, the Extra, the Martian, and His Nibs, turns to grotesque and hilarious poetry midair.

Fat People
By Carol Sturm Smith

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Published in 1978, this strange and strangely forgotten novel concerns a very big woman with some huge appetites for food, drink, and sex with her husband and lovers, including one named Young Viking. She takes a long drive to search her soul and find a great roadside diner, her funny, acerbic voice guiding us through orgasms, insights, and possibly some intestinal gas.

The Flower of the Republic
By Raymond Kennedy

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An elderly professor turned vagrant enters a New England tavern and utters the unspeakable in language as vibrant as any you’ve heard. He is semiabducted for sexual purposes by a mountain woman who smokes a clay pipe. He tells a mesmerizing, outrageous story of his haunted past. Those are most of the major events. The rest is the dark, crazy, lustful magic of Kennedy’s prose.