NARRATORS of comic novels tend to fall into two categories. Either they are jaded insiders in a world they see is a sham, or they are hapless outsiders who long to be insiders, even though they sense it is all a sham. Outsiders are harder to pull off. It takes some convincing to empathise with a true loser.

喜剧小说的主人公一般分为两类。他们要么是已感厌腻的圈内人,要么是倒霉不幸、渴望成为圈内人的圈外人。前者认为其所处的圈子充满了虚情假意,后者虽然已经意识到那圈子整个儿是虚情假意,但仍盼成为圈内人。圈外人越是想成为圈内人,就越难成功。要想读者对一个完全失败者产生共鸣的话,那是需要作者拿出些有说服力的东西的。

Sam Lipsyte made his name with “Home Land” (2005), a darkly funny book written as letters to an alumni newsletter. The hero was a washout—loveless, nearly friendless and all but jobless (“It’s time you knew the cold soft facts of me. I did not pan out.”). But he was also hilarious, with the incisive cruelty of a true underdog. Like “Portnoy’s Complaint”, Philip Roth’s 1969 novel, “Home Land” was less a story than a voice, vital, irrepressible and sexually perverted, just without the exploits.

山姆•里普斯特因其作品《故园》(2005年)而成名,这是一部带有朦胧和滑稽色彩、以校友通讯信函构成的书信体作品。作品中的主人公是一位彻头彻尾的失败者,没有爱情、几无朋友、几无工作(“该是你知道我那凄冷无助、胸无大志的人生真相的时候了。我是个失败者”)。不过,真正失败者所具有的那种尖刻言辞,也就使得主人公具有了喜剧性。与菲利普•罗斯1969年出版的小说《波特诺的怨诉》相类似,《故园》与其说是故事小说,倒不如说是一种没有扣人心弦的行为相随的内心独白——活龙活现、按捺不住和性欲反常的内心独白。

“The Ask”, Mr Lipsyte’s new novel, is more ambitious. Again the narrator, Milo Burke, is a sad, cynical sack. Raised in the New Jersey suburbs and trained as a painter, he once believed that his artistic genius would make him famous. Now in his 40s, with the slovenly build of a “half-melted block of Muenster cheese”, he is embittered,  occasionally mawkish and complacent; a “man with many privileges and zero skills. What used to be called an American.”

山姆•里普斯特新小说《期盼》更具表现力。小说的主人公米洛•伯克是又一个集悲惨无助、愤世嫉俗之大成的人物形象。他生活在新泽西州郊区,为成为一位画家而接受训练,他曾经认为,他的艺术才华会使他名扬天下。而今,40多岁的他,体型邋遢,像一个“明斯特半软干酪”,他怨恨满怀、偶尔伤感、间或自满;他是一个“拥有诸多特权而又别无长技的人——就是曾经一向被称作美国人的那种人”。

But Milo makes do. He bumbles through his job fund-raising for an art school, and spends his nights watching television with his wife and son. His life is as reassuringly bland as his daily turkey-wrap lunch. But then he is sacked from his job and exiled to the unemployed wilds of doughnut shops and internet porn. His luck seems to change when a rich old college buddy involves him in an important potential donation to the school. Milo’s challenge is to secure the funding (the titular “ask”) without getting tied up in all the strings attached.

不过,米洛•伯克的日子还得如此一天天凑合着过。他踉踉跄跄地做着为一所艺术学校募集资金的工作,他靠与其妻子和儿子一起看电视来打发夜间时光。他的人生就像他每日的火鸡卷午餐一样,安适自然却又索然无味。可是后来,他被解雇了,他的人生被放逐到无拘无束的自然状态,游走于甜甜圈店和互联色情网。当一位发达了的昔日大学好友带他参与为学校争取一笔重要的潜在捐赠资金时,他的运气似乎有了转机。米洛面临的挑战就是要在不利用任何外在条件的情况下,把那笔捐赠资金(这也是本书书名《期盼》的由来)募集成功。