Bored to death 

With his latest novel, The Subject Steve (Broadway Books), Sam Lipsyte treads well-worn territory staked out before him by everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to Chuck Palahniuk. Regardless, Lipsyte still manages to add his distinctive mark in reflecting on the absurdity of modern life -- however small that mark may be.

Our protagonist Steve is a thirtysomething pushover divorcee who is literally dying of boredom. His otherwise dull existence is shaken by the discovery he's contracted a previously unheard of yet fatal disease, and he starts searching for a cure.

Eventually he ends up at the Center for Non-Denominational Recovery and Redemption, a bizarre cult led by an ex-military man who specializes in torture as treatment.

Lipsyte's twisted tale vacillates between annoying and fascinating. He steers the reader through absurd plot changes, but he populates the text with brilliantly creative characters, such as the ex-military hero turned sadistic cult leader and the con-artist doctors who diagnose Steve.

Tucked inside The Subject Steve is a witty black comedy about a disaffected man who has led an unremarkable life killing time in his office cubicle while managing to screw up his marriage and those around him. However, that examination almost gets lost in over-the-top plot twists. Lipsyte spends so much energy trying to be outrageous that he ignores the book's real strength.

Despite the echoes of other writers who have covered this territory before, often with better results, Lipsyte still manages to occasionally deliver an original satiric swipe at contemporary life. Now if only he'd spend less time trying to prove how off-the-wall he can be, Vonnegut and Palahniuk would have someone to worry about.

Noted: Fans of author Wally Lamb may be surprised to hear that his newest book, Couldn't Keep It to Myself (Harper Collins), is nonfiction. Lamb, whose novels I Know this Much is True and She's Come Undone hit gold thanks to Oprah's Book Club, this time serves as editor for a collection of stories from an unlikely source: a group of female inmates. Lamb leads a writing group at a correctional institution, and in the new book he gives the women a chance to tell their stories. Wally Lamb appears Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Charis Books and More, 1189 Euclid Ave. 404-524-0304.
-- Tray Butler



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