Sam Lipsyte on Plastic Bags

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by Matt Bell

Every time we move, I again encounter the shopping bags full of shopping bags, saved to be recycled but never recycled, instead just accumulating in some dark corner of our house, like a plastic rat king. And every time it makes me think of Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask, with its obsession with such bags inside of bags. From four different parts of the novel:

“Some natty loon sat alone at the next table. He wore a pilled herringbone blazer, crusty at the cuffs, guarded a shopping bag packed with neatly folded shopping bags.”

“The shopping bag stuffed with shopping bags was never far from reach, but when I asked him its meaning or purpose he told me I didn’t have proper clearance.”

“Maybe someday Bernie, still getting over his father’s untimely but somehow not surprising death, would take his new girlfriend to see the disturbing but brilliant drawings by the kiddie-diddler who spent most of his adult life guarding a shopping bag full of shopping bags in a doughnut shop not far from where he, Bernie, grew up, but who also, unbeknownst to the world, inhabited a fabulous and secret universe of the mind.”

“I listened to the rustle of the food bags. Paper and plastic. You could recycle the paper, slip the plastic over your head. Recycle yourself.”

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