With his debut novel,
Broken People, Lansky…proves himself a talented writer of fiction…unsparingly honest, but also funny and mordant, willing to use his life and what he does to his body to comment on issues larger than himself…To anyone who thought Obergefell v. Hodges (the 2015 Supreme Court decision that affirmed same-sex marriage as a constitutional right) put an end to gay shame in America, Broken People provides a contradictory vision. We need more books like Lansky's, ones that investigate why political progress doesn't always translate to self-acceptance for queer people.
The New York Times Book Review - Claiborne Smith
Lansky follows his addiction memoir
The Gilded Razor with a riveting novel about an L.A. writer named Sam who recently published a memoir about his drug and alcohol addiction. Sam, 28, and a friend plan to visit a shaman in Portland, Ore., on the strength of a testimonial that the shaman “fixes everything wrong with you in three days.” With humor, verve, and cut-to-the-bone revelations, Lansky takes readers on an enthralling adventure as Sam reckons with his anxiety and discomfort with his body. Over three days in Portland, thanks to the shaman’s perspicacious insight, drumbeating, chanting, and careful administration of ayahuasca, Sam enters a mode of deep self-reflection. Lansky’s mesmerizing descriptions are unflinchingly raw as Sam examines his life choices, his self-obsession, and his mistreatment of men in his life, particularly Charles, his first real love. Lansky also offers a canny snapshot of modern gay life, with the specter of HIV hovering over intimate relationships. While Sam’s whining about his body occasionally grates, the author keeps the reader on his side with an endless supply of wit. Lansky’s tale of self-acceptance offers surprising depth. (June)
Broken People: it may be full of delightful, razor-edged cultural commentary, but so too is it a journey of the soul. Too vulnerable to be blithely satirical and too self-aware to serve or fall for easy platitudes, Sam Lansky’s debut novel sends up LA’s consumerist wellness obsession while exploring the nature of health, acceptance, and human connection. The result is profound and affecting—as savvy as it is searching, as critical as it is compassionate.”— Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists "An epic journey of self-forgiveness that confronts us with the ways in which we're all broken, then, with the assured hand of a most talented writer, conjures the healing magic within. A mesmerizing read."— Steven Rowley, bestselling author of Lily and The Octopus and The Editor “Sam Lansky’s debut novel Broken People goes spelunking into the caves of one man’s insecurities. He’s written a piercing book about many topical things—gay sex and love; addiction; real estate; the dumb binary of American coastal identity—while also tapping into something frighteningly universal. Lansky’s book is a harrowing taxonomy of want, the material and the metaphysical gnawing away in bitter chorus. We’ve all ached like Sam, despite the foreign and rarefied circumstances of his experience. Both grim satire and nourishing, empathetic cri de coeur, Broken People is among the strangest and most thrilling reading experiences I’ve had this year. What terrible, selfish lives we all lead—and how beautiful our struggle to transcend them can be.”— Richard Lawson, author of All We Can Do Is Wait “ Broken People leads us through the winds of time and memory to offer a riveting portrait of transformation. I am better for having read it.”— Jamie Lee Curtis “ Broken People is an intimate and raw story of pain and healing. Sam Lansky proves he has command of a poignant and strikingly vulnerable new voice in fiction. Brave, wise, and beautifully unflinching.”— Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six “A searing read about truth and identity.”— Harper’s Bazaar “Cuts to the quick of Los Angeles life.”— Vogue “A haunting, honest, and humorous portrayal of how hard it is to find shelter from the ghosts of one's past.”— O, The Oprah Magazine “Riveting… With humor, verve, and cut-to-the-bone revelations, Lansky takes readers on an enthralling adventure… Lansky’s mesmerizing descriptions are unflinchingly raw.”— Publishers Weekly “Vividly realized…remains the story of one man’s deep personal struggles while at the same time speaking to and for all the broken people in this world….a deeply felt journey.”— Library Journal “Revelant.. bittersweet and delightfully circuitous...reminding us of the inconveniently true maxim that in order to heal, you first have to make some semblance of peace with yourself.”— Vogue, Best Books for Summer
DEBUT Author of
The Gilded Razor, a corrosive memoir of adolescent drug abuse and one-night stands, Time West Coast editor Lansky has written an eyes-wide-open debut novel about a man named Sam who's moved from New York to Los Angeles and is determined to stay sober and mend a life littered with failed relationships and failed dreams. But he still suffers from what he perceptively describes as "that elemental sense of brokenness, of being wrong, of being bad." Then, at yet another fancy party, he hears about the healing promise of an ancient herb called ayahuasca, administered by a shaman over three days, and after some contrary resistance he's eager to try it. Through the visions that follow, we participate in Sam's painful backstory and come to understand what it is he needs to let go. VERDICT Set within the vividly realized framework of addiction recovery and gay life in America, this remains the story of one man's deep personal struggles while at the same time speaking to and for all the broken people in this world. Some readers may twitch at the long drug trip, but it's a deeply felt journey that many will want to take. [See Prepub Alert, 12/1/19.] —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Can a weekend with a shaman help a tortured writer find inner peace?
The Gilded Razor (2016), a memoir of his misspent youth, with a work of autofiction that recounts the further adventures of a character named Sam with the same backstory. Neither recovery nor writing a memoir nor a move to Los Angeles has proved to be the key to mental health for Sam, who is so filled with self-doubt and self-loathing he can hardly leave the house or entertain a simple hookup. Fortunately, he somehow manages to attend a dinner party where he overhears someone say “He fixes everything that’s wrong with you in three days.” His rich friend Buck makes arrangements to take a course with the healer in question and offers to take Sam along. At first, he’s doubtful. “Is it problematic to work with a white shaman who’s like, appropriating the teachings and practices of an indigenous culture for personal gain?” Sam asks his best friend, Kat. “Definitely,” she tells him. “But life is a late-capitalist hellscape, so your mystical journey might as well be one, too.” The novel is strongest in its humorous moments. Sam’s experience on ayahuasca turns out to involve reliving in detail a series of messy relationships with men he loved in the past, which is not all that interesting, but it culminates in an intense spiritual experience which would be more compelling if Lansky had not chosen to call this a novel. Instead, we have an imaginary person healing imaginary damage with an imaginary drug experience, which seems to be a failure of nerve. To make this type of narrative interesting and meaningful, the psychedelic healing experience should be asserted as fact, as Ayelet Waldman did in A Really Good Day. If it’s all made up, who cares?
This fervent testimony to the healing powers of ayahuasca would have been more powerful if published as nonfiction.