The Atlantic

Sam Lipsyte’s Lame Send-up of a Guru and His Acolytes

In Hark, the characters are distracted, and their author veers between satire and sincerity.
Source: Hanna Barczyk

The Archer’s Paradox is a curiosity of physics according to which an arrow, if it flew straight, would miss its target. The path from bow to bull’s-eye twists and curves, imperceptibly but inevitably. Archery is the source of a great many metaphors in Hark, Sam Lipsyte’s new novel. (The word metaphor is the source of a self-conscious groaner of a pun—What’s a metaphor? It’s for cows to graze in—that is repeatedly invoked.) The title character, a self-help guru and putative messiah named Hark Morner, preaches a life-transforming practice called “mental archery,” whose vaguely described techniques, including thought exercises and physical poses, promise improved focus for distracted modern souls. “Focus on focus” is one of Hark’s mantras.

The Archer’s Paradox isn’t mentioned in the book, but a version of the rule surely applies. The novel’s tone and premise point toward satire, a mode that depends on accurate aim and swift, sharp impact. Lipsyte has a full quiver and a range of targets that include cosmopolitan culinary trends, urban-parenting dogmas, digital-workplace dynamics, and the arrogance of the technocratic ruling class. But satire is especially hard to pull off right now, its objects at once too obvious and too obtuse for

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min read
The Tiny Fish That Break a Fundamental Rule of Vertebrate Life
By living fast and getting eaten in extreme numbers, these overlooked critters fuel the food webs that allow vast communities to flourish in coral reefs.
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
Impeachment Is A Refusal To Accept The Unacceptable
In 1838, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech on “the perpetuation of our political institutions“—better known today as the Lyceum Address. Dwelling on the threats facing the American political structure, he argued that the United States was protected from
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
Even in Parts of England That Rely on the EU, European Elections Are a Circus
The focus during the campaign in the pro-Brexit South West is on the zany candidates, not the issues.