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

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