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Sam Lipsyte’s new novel “No One Left to Come Looking for You” captures a fast-fading, post-punk Gen X era set in the East Village

The author of “Home Land” takes readers back to the underground music scene of the early ‘90s

Being a Gen X post-punk music veteran is like being from a very small town — as comforting and essential as its contours may be to you, you don’t expect anybody else to know or care much about it. And yet the underground music scene of 1993 is brought to life in “No One Left to Come Looking for You,” the new comic novel by Sam Lipsyte.

A quest of sorts, the story follows Jonathan as he tries to find his missing bass and the roommate who absconded with it. The roommate, called The Banished Earl, has a heroin habit and is the semi-genius lead singer of their band. Almost everyone has a clever pseudonym — Jonathan is trying to convince everyone to call him Jack, which will make a funny riff out of the dirty, unprintable name of their band. It’s not copying the Ramones, it’s an ironic nod to the cliche of copying the Ramones, Jack explains.

Irony was the comedic currency of the ‘90s, and Lipsyte weaves it in — how else? — knowingly. Lipsyte is one of his generation’s top satirists, often portraying hapless, verbally adept losers in novels that include 2010′s “The Ask” and his 2004 breakthrough, “Home Land.”


As Jack seeks out his bass and The Earl, he moseys around New York’s East Village, going from guitar shop to diner to dive bar, from art gallery to lofts and ad-hoc music venues. The places have been anonymized, but not unrecognizably so, making this less an exercise in nostalgia than a bid to launch the underground East Village music scene into the pantheon of fiction.

This is a great pleasure of the book — to see this long-lost low-rent world, its lousy jobs and scuzzy bedrooms, brought into being in a funny novel. The moment is fast fading into just a few Gen X memories. The tiniest generation was not good at promoting itself; we had a deeply conflicted relationship with fame. Jack is scornful of any local band that’s even rumored to be signing to a major label deal.


“This bid for community, laid-back authenticity. Where’s the theater, the spectacle, the deadpan menace? Any schmuck can break the fourth wall,” Jack fumes. “Try walking onstage and erecting an invisible barrier of terrifying splendor all the way up to God.”

Jack’s band is dedicated to making art that confronts rather than appeals, and in one beautiful scene Lipsyte shows us how they do it. But with The Earl’s drug habit and a talented drummer who wants to leave, they are as haphazard about making music as Jack is about his search.

First Jack encounters a thug trying to sell his bass and while he manages to avoid getting beat up, he doesn’t get the bass back. He meets a new girl, an artist. He runs into his ex, hangs out with friends, takes a trip home to New Jersey, encounters older guys with strong, profane opinions about politics. After a stabbing, he has to talk to the police. He even encounters a New York buffoon, real estate developer Donald Trump.

In a novel that spends so much energy coming up with stand-ins for the real thing, that Trump appears by name is a baffling choice. Back in the 1980s, Trump basked in the attention from New York media, with just a trickle of (outstanding) mockery from Spy Magazine. To make Trump an object of ridicule then was edgy; to satirize him now is both obvious and not enough. Now, after he went from real estate mogul with shady dealings to president of the United States, his actions aren’t just laughable. His refusal to acknowledge the results of the 2020 election capped off a tenure that saw him publicly foment racism, pack the Supreme Court with anti-choice judges, and support the actions of the rioters who attacked the US Capitol on Jan. 6, among so many more actions that have caused untold harm. He’s not just a ridiculous figure — he’s much worse.


He makes more than one appearance in the novel, a recurring Scooby-Doo-like villain. Maybe, to some readers, that will be a witty diminishment of Trump’s power. But to me it was disappointing — and, more importantly, not particularly funny.

Otherwise, the hazards in Jack’s way ratchet up as he hopes to get the band back together, build the romance with his new crush, and otherwise make a life in the city. It reads a little bit like an East Village “After Hours,” speeding toward its destination with wacky scenes followed by danger: a tinfoil-covered kitchen, an art project using menstrual blood, a bruiser named Heidegger “Heidy” Mounce.

Lipsyte has a particular talent for rendering worlds through wry wordplay. In “No One Left to Come Looking for You,” the nicknames stack up into sentences of silliness; an elder punk statesman leads the band the Annihilation of the Soft Left.


All of it started as real experience, when Lipsyte moved to New York City in the ‘90s after graduating from Brown. He led an unheralded noise rock band, Dungbeetle, now best known for their sound engineer, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Lipsyte, who teaches at Columbia, was lucky to find another creative outlet that suited him.

It could have gone another way. As an older man tells Jack, “Just play out your artsy-fartsy dream until you get too old or too tired of being broke and mediocre and it’s time for the next batch of fools to roll in.”

“No One Left to Come Looking for You: A Novel”

By Sam Lipsyte

Simon & Schuster, 224 pages, $26.99

Carolyn Kellogg, former books editor of the Los Angeles Times, now lives in the Hudson Valley.