What’s a guru to do when he loses control of his own inspirational movement?
This question drives Hark, Sam Lipsyte’s trenchant satire about the quest for meaning and the extremes to which some people will go to achieve it.
If ever there lived an accidental messiah, it’s Hark Morner. His original goal—in one of Lipsyte’s many sly commentaries—was to be a stand-up comic. He wasn’t all that good, but a club owner booked him to perform his act on “the pitfalls of office life” at corporate gatherings. Hark quickly began to take his own words seriously. He had found his calling.
Hark calls his method “mental archery,” or “a few tricks, or tips, to help people focus,” which include everything from yoga and New Age speak to literal bows and arrows. It’s not long before he attracts adherents, who are feverishly devoted to Hark’s vision. Among them are Fraz Penzig, an unhappily married father of twins who is “rich in nutrients, solid from the gym,” yet perpetually feeling “on the verge of the verge of death”; Kate Rumpler, a young heiress who funds the nascent Harkist institute; and Teal Baker-Cassini, former Fulbright scholar and erstwhile embezzler, who now handles the group’s marketing.
Give the world a popular movement, and mercenaries are sure to follow. That’s what happens here, as social media tycoons and others try to monetize Hark’s movement, leaving the former comic to wonder what sort of joke he has unleashed on the world.
Oddly enough for a novel about the power of focus, Hark sometimes strays from its central story. But Lipsyte lands plenty of jabs at his targets, from internet trolls and conspiracy theorists to the desire for quick fixes to complicated problems.
If acidic satire helps you fend off life’s challenges, then put Hark in your quiver.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.