Sam Lipsyte's "The Fun Parts" & Sage Shortbread Cookies
To be funny — genuinely witty, not just goofy — a person has to be both smart and honest. Sam Lipsyte proves to be truly funny, which makes me like him from page one. Well, technically it was page four of The Fun Parts, where Lipstye describes a tony house this way: “The place had been enormous, dizzying, a living (well, not quite living) embodiment (not embodiment, precisely) of the aspirational sconce porn that Tovah sometimes indulged in online or at magazine racks.” How could I not be hooked?
Lipsyte turns the same incisive eye to his characters, who, even if you’ve never met a high school Dungeon Master or a bumbling male doula, seem exactly as weird as they would in the real world. Quirky characters are all the rage — the ubiquity of the manic pixie dream girl being Hollywood’s contribution — so I find myself policing the use of quirky in literature, especially short stories, where it’s easy to give a character a whimsical tic and assume that stands in for an actual history. Despite being on high alert for false whimsy, I find none of it in Lipstye’s characters, who seem blissfully, strangely real.
The stories are varied, both in length and subject matter, which is a plus for those of us with fleeting attention spans. We experience life through the eyes of 30-something female poets-turned-teachers, suburban fathers, high school boys, writers. And with the start of each story, I do feel inside the narrator’s head. Inexplicably, I don’t feel jolted around. Though I’m hopping from one person’s head to another, the steady, observant honesty ties them together. We see a whole spectrum of experience. My takeaway? Life is a difficult process, so you’d better make sure to enjoy the fun parts.
As a savory dessert fiend, I’m a proponent of using both salt and herbs to balance a sweet pastry. Sage is another word for wise, and the way the herb is folded into a somewhat salty, not overly sweet cookie reminds me of how Lipsyte’s stories contain equal parts wisdom, reality and humor. Oh, and these cookies are great with a cup of coffee or tea and book, of course.
SAGE SHORTBREAD COOKIES
Yield: About 28 small cookies
- 2 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoon thinly sliced sage
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bourbon sugar (I bought mine from Colonel De)
Pulse flour, powdered sugar, sage and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor until combined, then add butter and pulse until the dough sticks together in a lump. (This took a few more pulses than I expected). Divide the dough in half and, with your hands, roll each into a log a bit more narrow than a store-bought cookie dough log. Chill on a baking sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350ºF. Remove the dough, chopping each log into ½-inch-thick slices and placing them on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, swapping sheets halfway so that each sheet is on the top rack for an equal amount of time.
Remove from the oven when slightly golden at the edges, immediately sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon kosher salt (if you like a salty shortbread) and 1 tablespoon vanilla bourbon sugar. Cool on a rack before serving.
Adapted from Bon Appetit