From strip clubs to the Academy Awards to the basketball court—a ride through the landscape of guyhood.
Acclaimed fiction writer Thomas Beller digs deep into his own history in this humorous and insightful collection about the state of masculinity. With sharp and engaging eloquence he discourses on T-shirts; being your mother's date at the Academy Awards; life at a bagel factory; the irrational pleasures of old American cars—and the mysterious disappearance of the author's own particular vehicle from a street in downtown Manhattan; love, sex, and breakups in an office environment; the social ecology of street basketball—including the sudden peril befalling a particular court in Manhattan and the heartwarming efforts of previously disparate community members to save it; coaches; the death of a parent; getting over J. D. Salinger; and an attempt to build a complicated piece of furniture for a beloved. Through stints as a bike messenger, a drummer, a boyfriend and—possibly, potentially, finally—a husband, Beller writes about the life-changing effects of love and marriage—past, present, and future.
Old cars, custom carpentry and chemistry sets are just some of the topics novelist Beller (The Sleep-Over Artist) uses to explore his own emotional maturation. In spare, crisp language, his descriptions of items and tasks slowly become excavations of memories. The best sections of his book which is largely assembled from pieces that first appeared in magazines like the New Yorker and Elle call to mind Raymond Carver in their clarity of language and subdued emotion. In one essay, Beller's fond recall of his 1977 Thunderbird morphs into a meditation on the difficulty of letting go of the romantic notions of youth. In another, a girlfriend's constant purchases of clothing for the author eventually become occasions for melancholy (the gifts began to feel like apologies). A third piece addresses the "paradoxical reality" of strip clubs: they're "one of the few remaining places men can go to not think about women." The only blot on this otherwise excellent book is the chapter in which Beller describes the end of a relationship between the cofounders of Nerve.com; its reportorial tone feels jarring and out-of-place. The rest of the book is thoughtful and controlled; overall, Beller has penned a fine collection of essays that will resonate with many.