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Bestselling author Sam Lipsyte's latest novel is the story of ambivalent guru Hark Morner, whose technique of “Mental Archery” brings him acolytes and enemies in equal measure.

Hark’s own motives are uncertain, as is his talent. He seems at times to be genuinely questing, at times deeply cynical, not unlike his audience. Some are selfless believers, while others merely want to cash in on what they see as a panacea for our culture of anxiety. To one audience he confides, “The fact is I keep telling everybody, I don’t have a message…. I just have a few techniques to help people focus…. Maybe I’m a charlatan, a huckster, a pseudo-spiritualist spinning off some old yoga memes. But who isn’t? I mean, sometimes it seems like you’ve got to be a serious con artist just to get your basic needs met.”

"What keeps the reader going for much of the book is the language, which is sharp and at times wickedly sardonic."

The cast of characters in this novel is large and includes the main protagonist and acolyte, a loser named Fraz, whose wife, Tovah, is sleeping with one of Hark’s main funders, a boor named Nat Dersh. Other followers include Teal and Kate, two friends who threaten to turn on Fraz when he argues that protecting Hark’s legacy should be more important than financial considerations. Then there’s gentle Meg, who may understand Hark best of all, or may simply be simple.

None of the players, including Hark, is spared ridicule, but unfortunately this social satire has a confusing story arc. For a while, it looks as though the Mental Archery movement is the focus, until suddenly Fraz and Tovah and their twins hijack the story. Then the spotlight is back on Hark before, finally, the narrative plunges into a fourth dimension whose primary rationale may be to allow the author to end the book without having to resolve any of the plotlines.

Although there are no real villains here, there are also few likable characters. What keeps the reader going for much of the book is the language, which is sharp and at times wickedly sardonic. Explaining a new initiative call Mercystream, one character exclaims, “It’s amazing. Instead of letting refugees into the country, we can give them laptops and listen to their stories as they stream them from their camps. It’s all about empathy.”

A funny but ultimately frustrating book, HARK doesn’t live up to its initial promise.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on January 18, 2019

by Sam Lipsyte

  • Publication Date: January 21, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor, Satire
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501146076
  • ISBN-13: 9781501146077