The New Yorker: “The Republic of Empathy” by Sam Lipsyte

June 4, 2012: “The Republic of Empathy” by Sam Lipsyte

Although this is dubbed the science fiction issue, I’ll try to ignore that. Individually the several stories in this twofer (June 4 and 11) are not particularly more off-the-wall than many other stories TNY publishes during the year. As a whole, though, they’re a little hard to swallow. But let’s take them one at a time.

First up is Sam Lipsyte’s “The Republic of Empathy,” set at some point in the future, apparently. Like Lipsyte’s last story in the magazine, this one doesn’t do much for me. Structurally, it’s told in a series of short scenes with shifting points of view. We begin with William, whose wife wanted another baby although he’s not so sure. At work he lets off steam with Gregory, and they smoke a joint on the roof, where they witness a fight on the roof of the next building that results in one man falling to his death. Then William dreams he has another son. He wakes up and it turns out he does have another son.

Then we shift to Danny’s point of view. Danny, apparently, is the son of Gregory and this scene predates the previous one. And the scene is written as if Danny is working on a memoir. Then we get Leon and Fresko, the two men who were fighting on the roof, except it turns out they weren’t fighting. Then it’s Zach’s turn. He meets Gregory and we get more of his story. The next section is where the science fiction comes in. It’s told from Drone Sister’s point of view as she’s approaching her target, which is . . . Then, finally, we get a section from Peg’s point of view. She’s William’s wife and she’s reporting on what happened to William.

If there’s a point, I don’t see it. (The Q&A with Sam Lipsyte doesn’t shed much light on things.)

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