Or, the Real Poet; Or, the Origin of the World

by Lucy Ives

List Price: $16.95
Paperback | 5.4 x 8.2, 304 pages | ISBN 9781593763909

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

“Hilarious . . . A riotous success. Equal parts campus novel, buddy comedy and meditation on art-making under late capitalism, the novel is a hugely funny portrait of an egomaniac and his nebbish best friend.” —The Washington Post

It’s the end of summer 2003. George W. Bush has recently declared the mission in Iraq accomplished, the unemployment rate is at its highest in years, and Martha Stewart has just been indicted for insider trading. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Midwest, Troy Augustus Loudermilk (fair-haired, statuesque, charismatic) and his companion Harry Rego (definitely none of those things) step out of a silver Land Cruiser and onto the campus of The Seminars, America’s most prestigious creative writing program, to which Loudermilk has recently been accepted for his excellence in poetry.

Loudermilk, however, has never written a poem in his life.

Wickedly entertaining, beguiling, layered, and sly, Loudermilk is a social novel for our time: a comedy of errors that deftly examines class, gender, and inheritance, and subverts our pieties about literature, authorship, art making, and the institutions that sustain them.

Lucy Ives is as deeply funny and ferocious a writer as they come. She’s also humane and philosophical when it matters most. I love Loudermilk.

Sam Lipsyte, author of Hark and The Ask

"This clever satire of writing programs exhibits, with persuasive bitterness, the damage wreaked by the idea that literature is competition."

The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

Funny, cerebral . . . Ives’s hyperbolic satire--her outsized, loquacious characters, her stylistic brio--lays bare the central fallacy of ’write what you know.’ In one sense, we believe Ives is drawing from her own, all-too-real experience. And yet, with its ludic meta-fictionality and the self-conscious construction of characters, the novel cleverly dodges knowable reality, circumventing the question of authenticity altogether.

Hermione Hoby, The New Yorker

Ives is either puncturing a myth about Iowa or advancing it; either option makes her book an indulgence . . . Ives’s interests point toward the philosophical, even the mystical. Loudermilk is not just funny; it becomes a layered exploration of the creative process . . . Ives approaches the students themselves with canny tenderness, and their work (which the novel excerpts, delightfully) with grave respect. Her own language is prickly and odd, with a distracted quality, as if she were trying to narrate while another voice is murmuring in her ear.

Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

A clever new satire of writing programs . . . Ives scores some fine touches.

Caleb Crain, The New York Times Book Review

Ives’ satirical masterpiece follows poet Troy Augustus Loudermilk, a shallow Adonis recently admitted to the nation’s premiere creative-writing graduate program, located in the heart of America’s starchy middle . . . Laugh-out-loud funny and rife with keen cultural observations, Ives’ tale is a gloriously satisfying critique of education and creativity.

Booklist (starred review)

"The nuanced subversion of tropes and full-throttle self-indulgence of Ives’s writing lend a manic glee to this slyly funny and deeply intelligent novel."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Half gonzo grad school satire featuring these two princes among men, half theoretical inquiry into the nature of writing and reality . . . Wonder Boys meets Cyrano de Bergerac meets Jacques Lacan meets Animal House. Something for everyone."

Kirkus Reviews

"Hilarious . . . A riotous success. Equal parts campus novel, buddy comedy and meditation on art-making under late capitalism, the novel is a hugely funny portrait of an egomaniac and his nebbish best friend."

Rebekah Frumkin, The Washington Post

Ives has created a wholly American comedic gem, one that harkens back to the work of authors like Charles Portis or Thomas Pynchon. Every page is filled with clever gags and turns of phrase, but perhaps what’s most impressive is the world-building Ives undertakes, creating an entire oeuvre for her characters. Set in 2003 and centered around a Troy Loudermilk--a beefy conman who strongarms his depressed roommate into writing poetry for him so they can reap the benefits of a college scholarship--this is a hilarious post-Millennium, pre-Millennial foray into America at the cusp of decline.

Justin Souther, Asheville Citizen-Times

Ives’ story works because she lambasts the right people in a thoughtfully witty and stylish way. Her gift for characterization is tremendous, her voices are vibrant and clear, and her satirical prowess is startlingly sharp.

Sophia Kaufman, The Lakeville Journal

Ives, who once described herself as ’the author of some kind of thinking about writing, ’ examines the conditions that produce authors and their work while never losing a sense of wonder at the sheer mystery of the written word . . . The book’s postscript is another kind of writerly transgression, as Ives emphatically tells rather than shows. In a novel full of doubles, veils, and proxies, it makes sense that Ives concludes with yet another layer.

Sylvia Gindick, Bookforum

A cutting, sparkling new novel from Lucy Ives . . . As Ives tells the story of Loudermilk and Harry, and the assorted people they encounter on campus, it becomes clear that she is telling the story of art, of self-invention, of libertines, of culture, of America. Needless to say, things get dark. And yet, it never gets so dark that you can’t see what’s right in front of you, in all of its tragic hilarity: the truth of what America is at its very worst and its very best--which, as it turns out, are pretty much the same thing.

Kristin Iversen, NYLON

A book where profound poststructuralist meditations on language, chance and creativity are deftly spun through with a myriad of jokes about farting, sex and male anatomy . . . With the Bush presidency and invasion of Iraq playing out ambiently and calamitously in the background, Loudermilk perfectly captures the strange cultural ethos of the early 2000s . . . With razor-sharp prose and a plenitude of linguistic strangeness, Ives has written a novel about American college life that is both philosophically gripping and exceptionally hilarious.

Emma Levy, Shelf Awareness (starred review)

Gorgeous and funny . . . The questions raised by Ives--Who is a writer? Who is the creative asset? Are we all creatives? Who is to say what can be done at a creative writing program?-- are poignant and timely and relevant.

Camille Hove, The Millions

A narrative in defense of narrative . . . In a literary critical flourish, [Ives] combines elements of libertine novels, realist novels, social novels, inherited wealth lit, postmodern novels, period pieces, poetry, satire, and revenge plots . . . A funny and cutting novel whose critiques of inherited wealth and its effects on culture in the aughts will keep being true until a full redistribution of wealth, beginning with reparations, occurs.

Charlie Markbreiter, The Nation

The novel is sharply satirical and laugh-out-loud funny. Loudermilk is a ridiculous character, in the best way: the famous Iowa workshop is not at all prepared for him. This is a fast-paced, entertaining read, but also one that has a lot to say about poetry, the university, and the endeavor of teaching creative writing.

Rebecca Hussey, Book Riot

Ives’s insights on class imbalance and the changing nature of creativity make Loudermilk a rewarding read, even for readers who can’t personally relate to the absurdity of literary programs.

Rachel Davies, Electric Literature

[Ives] has a fondness for wordplay, and moves between registers to comic effect.

Adam Wilson, 4Columns

One of the best, funniest, and most ambitious novels of the year so far.

James Butler-Gruett, The Cardiff Review

Loudermilk, a satire, explores a complex web of plot and episodes, thick descriptions, biting character arcs, poetic and philosophical precision, stylistically different stories/poems within stories, the nature of time, and the mirage of power (or the possibility of unveiling politics, and cracking open agency). By employing a classical theatrical technique of dramatis personae, rather than ’realistic’ novel characters, perhaps Ives is able to move between so many registers that enable her unusual ’mash-up’ to excel as at once philosophical and planted in the mud . . . Ives’s style of satire shatters the dichotomy between meta-narrative and human empathy. Breaking such a distinction requires rare observational skill, patience, and multi-genre flexibility and curiosity.

Elizabeth Block, The Brooklyn Rail

Loudermilk is fast-paced, beautifully and hilariously written, making it feel as though it already sits amongst the great satires written in the past 20 years . . . The ratio of pages to laugh-out-loud moments in Loudermilk is impressive . . . It is a novel to be returned to over and over again both for its hilarity and its interesting, intelligent conversation on the arts. Ives has taken her MFA certificate and written an inquisitive, writerly, wonderful satirical novel on its blank side.

Evan Welsh, Spectrum Culture

Ives’s new novel is one of the funniest in recent memory, stuffed with jabs at writers and toxic masculinity, bluntly yonic allusions, and feuilleton-esque prose that prances on page . . . What Ives is playing with here is not just beautiful sentences and humorous situations, it’s the disharmony felt at the core of our experiences . . . Though the empirical distinctions between prose and poetry are often illusory, Ives finds a way to make her prose both a kind of communication--as is expected--as well as a construction of satire. Her words linger longer than normal trade, and find ways to avoid their disintegration, as if the must of a punchline is more lasting, more fragrant; words this eloquently framed and humorous imprint, and, often enough, hold us in their absurdity.

Thomas Hrycyk, The Adroit Journal

Readers expecting yet another referendum on the MFA will be pleasantly surprised to discover a much stranger and more ambitious book. In Loudermilk, Ives has taken a subject notoriously difficult to make interesting--the difficulty of writing itself--and narrativized it into an elaborate plot peopled by avatars of the types Sontag enumerated decades ago . . . Sontag says a good writer must be a fool and an obsessive, that the critic and the stylist are bonuses (so, inessential). But Ives--not just for her own erudition and syntactical artistry, remarkable as they are--counters that it is the critic and the stylist who are indispensable, for they are the ones who interface thought with language.

Jameson Fitzpatrick, The Believer

Polyphonic, wickedly funny . . . A heteroglot marvel, moving smoothly from Loudermilk’s loudmouth misogyny to precise and hilarious imitations of pretentious workshop poems . . . Ives has become in recent years one of our best commentators on institutional life . . . Loudermilk may best be read as a contribution to a growing body of literature that both historicizes and critiques the MFA program . . . Loudermilk suggests that MFA programs are only incidentally committed to the production of great writing, that their true purpose is the cultivation and maintenance of power. In this, they have been perversely successful--as successful as Loudermilk himself. And yet, paradoxically, their very success in cultivating such power has led the MFA into crisis . . . Loudermilk implicitly calls for more radical reforms to the MFA system: not a return to the glory days of the program era, but a new model with new priorities--a post-program era."

—Toby Altman, The Georgia Review

This send-up of contemporary graduate writing programs and the characters they attract and create is sure to highly amuse any reader, especially those with a penchant for academia-set hijinks. Reminiscent of Michael Chabon, this highly original satiric novel is sharp-witted and adroit. Brava.

Jenny Lyons, Addison County Independent

Lucy Ives mixes genres with unusual abandon in her second novel, Loudermilk. The narrative could be regarded as a campus novel, a portrait of the artist, a scam story, a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, or a farce . . . Loudermilk is a novel about the tension between art and life, and the conflict between labor and power.

Lily Meyer, On the Seawall

With Loudermilk, Lucy Ives weaves a wryly comic tale set in the insular, masturbatory world of a Midwest MFA program. Dissecting ideas around authenticity, status, and the chronic wish for fame or legacy that plagues or drives aspiring writers and established authors/professors alike, Ives tears down the curtain to unveil the wizard--and here all the characters are implicated in operating the clunky machinery that creates then lionizes the concept of merit or talent in the academic/literary world. In Loudermilk, the mundanity of the graduate writing program takes on a mythical air; Ives’s hapless or conniving characters are masterfully written as program archetypes doomed to wander the halls of the seminars at Crete, shuffling from workshop to workshop, foolishly or laboriously trying to locate whatever they think it means to be a writer. The result is this wildly smart novel that hilariously exposes its characters as they try to vault or cement themselves into some literary canon and/or ivory tower, unaware that the canon/tower is an ever-vanishing mausoleum wherein living writers go to get stuck, or lost, or to scrawl their names and draw butts and boobs on the walls.

Jen George, author of The Babysitter at Rest

The page transforms into an experimental playground where she produces gorgeous passages of lush imagery.

Publishers Weekly

In clumsier hands, this would come off as diaristic. In Ives’s, it’s art.

Culture Trip

Ives’s writing encourages its readers to consider their own power and form among the reality they encounter.

Make magazine

Lucy Ives is smart in that heartbreaking way that can make a spare, suspicious, elegant work of anti-poetry out of the silent treatment between ideas and those who have them." --Anne Boyer

"Ives’s exquisite take on ellipsis as realism is a dream, as both vision and something that fully satisfies a wish.

—Mónica de la Torre

Ives employs an economy of language that undoes the extreme fecundity of the material culture she describes.


Ives . . . is quickly developing into a poet of sentences on par with the poem-essays of Lisa Robertson and Phil Hall for their sharp blend of lyric, thought, and wit.

—Rob McLennan

Think of the upkeep of the minotaur at the center of what can only be the labyrinthine mind of Lucy Ives.

—Noah Eli Gordon

In the face of our love and disregard for this world, Ives gives us a book so unsettling and so stunning that we ’either say no words or weep into’ the worlds she so generously offers. These are worlds I gratefully receive.

—Sasha Steensen

Ives’s raw material is the refreshing stuff of life, the mind and the body. The genuine is trickier territory, but I think for all her concerns with imitation and transference, this is a book about the wonder of discovering yourself as writer in language.

Constant Critic

In which a maturing writer look[s] back on her younger self with a kind of wild surmise, amazing herself by where she has been, and amazing us by where she might go.


Ives’s work is certain in its undoing of certainty; it has an unforgettable voice as it strips itself of voiced identity; it summons a deeply trusted narrator in a work which cunningly challenges that trust.

—Jorie Graham

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