Sam Lipsyte’s new novel ‘No One Left to Come Looking for You’


Nobody is there to look for you anymore

By Sam Lipsyte
Simon & Schuster: 224 pages, $27

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One of the takeaways from 2022 is a sense that everything was better in the 1990s. It’s not just grizzled Gen-Xers ringing the bells of lost youth as they enter their retirement years. Millennials are also wondering about local music scenes and rock the vote, and why we can’t go back to their childhood era when history was over, irony was the order of the day, social media hadn’t ruined everything and we could chug our Zima and clothe us in peace like half-hearted lumberjacks.

In “No One Left to Come Looking For You,” novelist Sam Lipsyte has singled out a pivotal moment in the anti-pop pop culture myth of that decade: the post-“Nevermind” comedown after Nirvana’s 1991 album sold a zillion copies new generation of punk-lite kiddie bands incubated in A&R meetings to supplant anything pure and virtuous (I look at she, silver chair). Or at least it seemed so to these sturdy and very broke musicians who carried the tattered flag for the happier days of Gang of Four and the Fall. True believers like Jonathan Liptak, aka Jack S—the charmingly naïve, passionately committed amateur at the center of Lipstye’s wildly funny and sharply observed fifth novel.

Ever since Lipsyte emerged in 2000 with his short story collection Venus Drive, he’s been preoccupied with characters seeking a kind of twisted honor by defying the money- and status-obsessed modern world. It tends not to work for them; Lipsyte’s humor is born of her impotent rage against the machinations of runaway capitalism and her unbridled greed.

Like Lewis Miner, the antihero of Lipsyte’s 2005 novel Home Land, Jack tries to find himself by getting off. A suburban exile, he is determined to attempt anti-establishment glory with his almost good and seldom great band, The S—s. Jack has set out for Manhattan from the cultural swamps of New Jersey at a time when many of the city’s graffiti-spattered monuments to its musical past have been plowed under for condos and office monoliths. This development is thanks in no small part to developers like the young Donald Trump, who appears in Lipstye’s storyline as a malicious off-screen presence.

But by the start of the decade there was still room in downtown Manhattan (Brooklyn had yet to enter the chat) for a “dark, almost cheery scuzz parlor” like the Stop Pit, where Jack and his buddies take shelter under the dim glow of Motorcycle logos or King Snake Guitars, where it’s forbidden to use classic rock clichés like “chops or Axe or Jam.” Lipsyte knows that all punk rockers are snobs in reverse, denouncing conservatory-trained musicians as “smug skill bullies” and spouting sloppy, shambolic tirades against… well, even Jack himself isn’t sure, because “irony smothers our politics.”

But then Jack’s bass is stolen from his apartment and his charismatic junkie lead singer The Banished Earl disappears with him. Could the disappearance be related? So begins Jack’s odyssey through the last vestiges of New York’s seedy demimonde – the dives and drug corridors where he might find what he’s lost. Great drummer Hera has left his band for a “self-serving minimalist duo” called Thorazine, but she agrees to play one last show – should her ex Earl show up. Jack is on a mission to save his friend and maybe himself.

"No one's there to look for you anymore" by Sam Lipsyte

“No One Left” is conceived as a caper, a sort of “Lost on the Lower East Side” picaresque that will remind some readers (I’m watching sheBoomer) of seminal downtown New York films like Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation. More than anything, it’s a tender Valentine’s Day for an era when the idea of ​​abandoning man for a life on the fringes could isolate you from adulthood for as long as possible.

Like all the other fake Joe Strummers in town, Jack hopes to play the role of an insurgent at a time and place where it seems possible to create yourself on $5 a week. There’s also the constant fear of selling out – back when that was still a thing – but as Jack points out, all bands think other bands are selling out and so act “like Russian nesting dolls of impotent rage and insecurity”.

On the hunt, Jack finds himself barking up the wrong trees and sniffing tracks that go cold. Heading towards the story’s candid ending, Lipsyte takes us into a rogue gallery of art-damaged misfits, biker bruisers, crooked cops, earnest but disjointed performance artists — in short, the kind of folks you don’t see in SoHo much anymore. Lipstye clearly knows this universe inside out; his characters are charmingly naïve, confident dreamers, heads full of Marxist critical theory, their art a bulwark against the creeping banality of modern life.

The author has a knack for set pieces that substantiate his nostalgic world-building. To cite just one example, there is the seductive mystery girl Corrina, who wears “a crumpled polyester nurse’s uniform” and recruits Jack for her performance about the medieval nun Hildegard von Bingen by treating him like a character from the 1970s Sitcom “Three’s Company” drenched in menstrual blood. Her moral convictions are as intoxicating as her artistic vision is hazy. Jack is addicted.

No One Left is the rare thing: a satirical crime novel that doesn’t sacrifice story for style. It’s tightly plotted and pleasantly curvaceous. Jack stumbles upon information he wasn’t supposed to know, and when another ex-bandmate is killed, he finds himself in the crosshairs of Heidegger Mounce, a boorish servant of a certain future US president who’s trying to default on his construction bills.

Revealing the satisfactory resolution would be a crime in itself; Suffice it to say that Lipstye locates the moral rot of today’s island of the 1% in the uncontrolled greed of real estate panschandrums bent on stifling the vitality of a once great city. And yet Jack is unimpressed; By the end of the book, he remains convinced that the world can still be saved with a superb 20-minute set of gnashing anti-corporate punk rock. It’s just the small thing to get the world to listen.

Even if you weren’t there – and after all, how many of us really were? — Lipsyte’s novel is a fitting homage to a time when, Jack muses, “the cacophony [sounded] just right, or even goddamn gorgeous, the sadness of his passing built right into the summit. Like all good things, I guess.”

Weingarten is a writer based in Los Angeles. Sam Lipsyte’s new novel ‘No One Left to Come Looking for You’

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