Sam Lipsyte’s “Deniers”

Simon, from my writing group, is always telling me to read Sam Lipsyte. He says that the darkness in my stories reminds him of Lipsyte’s, a compliment I secretly gobble up. I don’t try to be dark for the sake of being dark, but it’s always nice to hear the visions that I see match up – if only slightly – to what my readers see.

Yesterday I received a frantic email telling me that there was a Lipsyte story, “Deniers,” in last week’s New Yorker. So I read it.

We are confronted with a fractured family: A father closed off in his memories of the Holocaust, a mother trying to escape her marital silence – eventually deafened by the noise she seeks, and a daughter who appreciates the importance of her family even through her drug use and abusive relationship. “Deniers” is Mandy’s post-mortem; she has risen after a dark period of drugs and abuse. She attends meetings and lays her hope heavily on a cardio-ballet class she teaches at the local Jewish Community Center.

Early on, Lipsyte touches on the oddities of memory, on the seemingly arbitrary way our minds seem to choose what we remember based on no particular algorithm, but on pure chance or meaning:

Mandy heard the details years later from her Aunt Linda, who added odd touches, such as Mandy’s growing a tiny potbelly from too much junk food, since the assignations left her mother no time to cook. Mandy didn’t remember that. She’d once seen Lawrence hunched over some papers in their kitchen—he threw her a funny, rueful look—but she did not recall a season of Whoppers and strawberry shakes.

Mandy’s world is so complete, from her appreciation of a stranger’s strong, white teeth because she doesn’t get to see them in AA meetings, to the struggled interactions with her dad: “At the plastic table on the patio, overlooking a tomato field, her father picked at bird crap. ‘Daddy,’ Mandy said. ‘That’s poop.’”

She must keep reminding her father – who fades with each visit – that her mother is dead. Mandy spends the story grappling with others’ perceptions of her, of being looked at, regarded, but by the end she is able to decide what image she wishes to project. In that way, there is hope in this story. In other ways, there are heaps and heaps of tragedy, like a landfill that swallows optimism in its neverending horizon.

What I Wish I’d Written:

“He never talks about it,” Mandy said.

“There might be no words, honey.”

“Does he talk to you?”

“We communicate,” her mother said.

“Was he like this when you met him?”

“Yes. But it was different. He wanted to kiss me all the time.”

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