A brilliant send-up of our contemporary culture from Sam Lipsyte, the critically acclaimed author of Home Land, centered around an unwitting mindfulness guru and the phenomenon he initiates.
In an America convulsed by political upheaval, cultural discord, environmental collapse, and spiritual confusion, many folks are searching for peace, salvation, and—perhaps most immediately—just a little damn focus. Enter Hark Morner, an unwitting guru whose technique of “Mental Archery”—a combination of mindfulness, mythology, fake history, yoga, and, well, archery—is set to captivate the masses and raise him to near-messiah status. It’s a role he never asked for, and one he is woefully underprepared to take on. But his inner-circle of modern pilgrims have other plans, as do some suddenly powerful fringe players, including a renegade Ivy League ethicist, a gentle Swedish kidnapper, a crossbow-hunting veteran of jungle drug wars, a social media tycoon with an empire on the skids, and a mysteriously influential (but undeniably slimy) catfish.
In this social satire of the highest order, Sam Lipsyte, the New York Times bestseller and master of the form, reaches new peaks of daring in a novel that revels in contemporary absurdity and the wild poetry of everyday language while exploring the emotional truths of his characters. Hark is a smart, incisive look at men, women, and children seeking meaning and dignity in a chaotic, ridiculous, and often dangerous world.
Hark One Listen, before Hark, was it ever harder to be human? Was it ever harder to believe in our world?
The weather made us wonder. The markets had, the wars.
The rich had stopped pretending they were just the best of us, and not some utterly other form of life. The rest, the most, could glimpse their end on Earth, in the parched basins and roiling seas, but could not march against their masters. They slaughtered each other instead, retracted into glowing holes.
Hark glowed, too.
He came to us and was golden-y.
It wasn’t that Hark had the answer.
It was more that he didn’t.
All he possessed, he claimed, were a few tricks, or tips, to help people focus. At work. At home. Out for coffee with a client, or a friend.
(Listen, before Hark, was it ever harder to find focus?)
Hark gathered his tips together, called it mental archery. Pretty silly, he liked to say.
But some knew better. Some were certain he had a secret, a mystery, a miracle. For what was mental archery but the essence of Hark, and what was the essence of Hark but love?
In this hurt world, how could that hurt?
The hunters of meaning had found no meaning. The wanters of dreams were dreamless. Many now drifted toward Hark Morner.
This is, like, the backstory.
The front story is about a bunch of people and a movement they launched under the banner of Hark, a movement that maybe meant nothing at all. Or maybe it did mean something. It’s tough to tell. The past is tricky, often half hidden, like a pale, flabby young man flung naked into a crowded square. The past doesn’t stand there, grant ganders. The past clasps its crotch, scurries for the cover of stanchions, benches.
History hides. That’s its job. It hides behind other history.
Fraz Penzig, one of the front-story people, knows all about it. He used to teach some history, though he hasn’t taught it in a while, not since the middle school cut staff by a third. His wife, Tovah, told him that life is not a zero-sum game, but Fraz senses that if it were, he would be the zero sum.
Lucky for him that Tovah is still employed.
He’s grateful for the medical, though he happens to have his health at the moment. Not that it’s something you can ever truly own, or bequeath, like a house, or a houseboat, or a parcel of land in the hills, but Fraz does have his health.
Oh, maybe he feels frail on occasion, a tad pulped, bones shot, frequently fevered, on the verge of the verge of death, but make no mistake, he’s hardy. His twinges, his spasms, his stabby aches, they’re chronic, like all the other minor hurts, the gym injuries, the sprains achieved mysteriously on the can.
He’s terminal, but not quite near the terminus.
Like when he had that raisin on his head, went to the raisin doctor.
“It’s nothing,” the doctor said.
“I mean it’s something. It’s just what people get. On the way down. You want I light-saber that bad boy off?”
Also, forty-six years on this hard turd of a world and Fraz’s mind is still, by his lights, pure silk. He knows younger types already fried, or brined, not just with drugs or booze, but merely from rising in the morning, moving about in their private biospheres of panic and decay, the hours at work, the hours of work at home, the hours of work with spouses, fathers, mothers, children, the stresses laced into the simplest tasks, the fight-or-flight responses to kitchen appliances, not to mention the mighty common domes, with which the individual bubbles Venn: the fouled sky, the polluted food, the pharma-fed rivers full of sad-eyed Oxytrout, the jeans on outlet shelves in their modalities of size—skinny fit, classic fit, fat shepherd fit, all dyed a deep cancer blue. And the wave rot, of course, the pixel-assisted suicide, the screens, the screens, the screens.
Yes, Fraz is lucky, privileged, if you please, not just to be alive but to still live here, his locus, his home grove, the city that never sleeps, but paces its garret in a nervous rage, the city of his kin.
Once he had some vague ambitions, semi-valuable skills. Now he tutors schoolkids part-time, does favors for an old friend of his late father.
He’s also lucky Tovah’s affections don’t hinge on his ability to generate revenue. Or maybe her affections hinge on nothing now.
But fie on such wallow-world musings. Fie on these flurries of own-negs. Today he will shrug off the cape of self-hate. Fraz has upsides. He’s a doting father. He’s one of Hark’s apostles. He spreads the word. Also, he’s rich in nutrients, solid from the gym, with, despite a certain overspreading doughiness, some noteworthy detail on his tris and delts. Truth is, he’d rather be a male waif, but he got Jewed (he can say it) on the genetics. His narrow band of endomorphic choice will always come down to this: lard barn or semi-cut chunk.
Today he’s headed downtown for a meeting with the mental archery brain trust: Kate Rumpler, the young heiress who funds their institute; Teal Baker-Cassini, the discipline’s leading intellectual light; and Hark Morner himself, their radiant, inscrutable guru. They will take their booth at the Chakra Khan, sip kale-and-peppermint toddies. They have much to discuss. Demonstration videos. Scheduled appearances. The True Arrow, a new feed on Hark Hub.
Fraz wishes they could meet at a coffee bar, or a full-service bar, or a full-service meat cart. He likes the street meat, the tangy skewers. He doesn’t mind the toddies. But the candles, the garden scents, menace his dainty machismo.
Listen, such are the sacrifices one makes for the cause, for mental archery, for love.
Sam Lipsyte is the author of the story collections Venus Drive (named one of the top twenty-five books of its year by the Voice Literary Supplement) and The Fun Parts and four novels: Hark, The Ask, The Subject Steve, and Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book and received the first annual Believer Book Award. He is also the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.
"Extremely funny... brilliantly alive"—NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"Lipsyte is marvelous at inspiring equal parts sympathy and scorn....his sentences are as sharp as ever."—WASHINGTON POST
“The lauded satirist’s caustic send-up centers on a cabal of hucksters – among them a hapless husband whose marriage is ‘locked in low-key, quotidian apocalypse’—working to turn a phony self-help guru into a moneymaking messiah. Every line feels as thrillingly charged as a live wire.”—O MAGAZINE
"Fans of Lipsyte — also behind Venus Drive and the great Home Land — will pick up traces of his best work. He’s particularly good in the abstract in Hark, building out his premise and shaping a god complex for an 'end of men' world. ... This feels like a step forward for the Trump-era satire.”—ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
“Very funny.”—LOS ANGELES TIMES
“Recommended reading.”—VANITY FAIR
“Lipsyte writes nose to sentence, like a truffle hound. Jokes emerge from shifting letters, the keel of a clause....Lipsyte’s language maintains a flexibility, a resilience, that feels quite necessary in a time of oversimplification and duplicity. The novel’s two themes, faith and fraud, are both rooted in rhetoric, in the massage of the message. Same with 2019. In Hark’s final pages, as the story takes on messianic velocity, Lipsyte turns somber. The laughter stops, and the novel becomes, if not profound, then at least elegiac—which is perhaps satire’s bullseye.”—BOMB
“From his debut, Venus Drive (2000), a collection populated by a string of outsiders and misfits (a tormented summer camper, a small-time coke dealer, a peep-show habitué and his comatose sister), to the near-future dystopia of Hark (2019), his fourth novel, the Lipsyte-verse is fueled by failed or failing relationships and the comically agonized involutions of liberal self-consciousness. His work is as endlessly self-correcting and unstable as Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, told with a compression and exacting attention to language that follows Stanley Elkin, Gordon Lish, and Barry Hannah. Lipsyte maps a world where the old-fashioned, middle-class American dream has been vaporized by rising inequality and greed, though his characters know full well—and won’t hesitate to let you know that they know, with the hangdog brio at the heart of his work—that the dream was never more than a corrupt, exclusionary sham from the beginning.”—THE PARIS REVIEW
“The first thing to be said about the book is that Sam has never been sharper or funnier. It is my habit when reading a bound galley for review to dog ear pages where passages that made me laugh or that seem worth quoting strike me. My galley of Hark is so comprehensively dog eared that the whole thing resembles a dog’s ear. The second thing to be said is that Hark presents Sam’s most socially expansive portrait and diagnosis of American life....Lipstye’s satire in Hark has never been more cutting or timely....There are also many parallels to be found in the way Nathanael West handles the volatile mixture of credulity and rage in the people he calls “the disappointed” in his indelible The Day of the Locust. In this as in so many other ways Sam Lipsyte is West’s truest successor among our living American novelists. I can offer no higher compliment."—THE MILLIONS
"Witty...His satirical potshots, sprayed toward vast arenas of contemporary life, are consistently on target."—NEWSDAY
“An excellent satire.”—NEW YORK POST
“Hark is a tartly effective sendup of 21st-century America. Mining comedy and pathos from economic inequality, shifting social mores and basic human yearnings, Lipsyte ably skewers our fads and phony gods....Awfully funny." —MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
"Lipsyte (The Fun Parts) pillories the mindfulness movement in this acerbic and surprisingly moving novel of a hesitant guru and his self-involved inner circle... This is a searing exploration of desperate hopes, and Lipsyte’s potent blend of spot-on satire, menacing bit players, and deadpan humor will delight readers."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“As usual, Lipsyte’s command of language is sublime."—KIRKUS REVIEWS
“Lipsyte…offers high-velocity moments in which bleakness and humor, the quotidian and the apocalyptic all gloriously converge.”—BOOKLIST
[A] trenchant satire about the quest for meaning and the lengths to which some people will go to achieve it.”—BOOKPAGE
“Madcap and full of love, laughter and unexpected beauty (not to mention the world’s greatest bone marrow smuggling scheme), if Hark doesn’t make you stalk Sam Lipsyte and try to break up his marriage, then you are not human.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
"Wonderfully moving and beautifully musical, Lipsyte has penned a dastardly hysterical take on modern day rhetoric and the eternal ridiculousness of it all. More than a 'must read,' Hark is a 'must believe!'" —Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout
Praise for Sam Lipsyte
“If you've heard anything about Sam Lipsyte, you've probably heard that he's funny. Scabrously, deliriously, piss-yourself funny (his characters would no doubt find a dirtier, and funnier, way of putting it), drawing audible snorts even from the kind of people, such as the people in his novels, who are way too cool to laugh out loud . . . Lipsyte's prose arrows fly with gloriously weird spin, tracing punch-drunk curlicues before hitting their marks--or landing in some weird alternate.” —Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Review of Books
“So let's read Lipsyte and rejoice; let's celebrate the laugh-producing Milo Burkes who are all too rarely brought to us by brave and bitter men--let's celebrate the canny, well-educated yet perpetually failing furtive Internet onanists, the dark, half-crippled, doughnut-gobbling man-apes of the literary world, who cast their lumpen shadows across the rest of us. These are the kind of unlikeable, lovable protagonists we miss; these are the self-loathing, mediocre secret geniuses who can set our people free.” —Lydia Millet, The New York Times Book Review
“It's customary for radically sardonic, corrosively funny writers to put in time as mere cult icons, but enough already: everybody should read Sam Lipsyte.” —TIME
“The riffs on fatherhood, work, and sex in Sam Lipsyte's unsparingly comic novel The Ask explode like a string of firecrackers--so funny you might lose an eye.” —Vanity Fair
“One of the greatest black-humorists alive, Lipsyte has gone unnoticed for far too long. With his third novel, about the painfully hilarious adventures of a failed painter in a dead-end job, he should finally get the acclaim he deserves.” —Details
“There's probably not a living American writer who has so comprehensively mined the comic possibilities of that particular anguished, hapless combination of the overeducated and the underachieving as Sam Lipsyte. Against all odds, his heroes refuse to succeed, and they and we are rewarded with the endlessly entertaining spectacle of their nonstop humiliation.” —Jim Shepard, Bookforum
“Lipsyte can't be matched...A literary rock star.” —The New York Times
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