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May 26, 2006

Lad Lit

Via Dan Drezner, Michael Kimmel's review of lad lit is pretty accurate stuff. Here, for instance, is how he describes the genre:

I may be 30, but I act 15. I am adrift in New York. I'm too clever by half for my own good. I live on puns and snide, sarcastic asides. I don't look too deeply into myself or anyone else — everyone else is boring or a phony anyway. I may be a New Yorker, but I am not in therapy. I have a boring job, for which I am overeducated and underqualified, but I lack the ambition to commit to a serious career. (Usually I have family money.) I hang out with my equally disconnected friends in many of the city's bars. I drink a lot, take recreational drugs, don't care about much except being clever. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and while I am eager to have sex, which I do often given the zillions of available women in New York, the sex is not especially fulfilling, and emotions rarely enter the picture. I am deeply shallow. And I know it.

Oh, and then something happens. I go on a journey, get inside the media machinery, sort-of fall for a new girl. Or 9/11 happens, but that doesn't really affect me much either. And though I might now mouth some bland platitudes about change, anyone can see that I'm still the same guy I was before. Only different. But not really.

Seems accurate to me. I'm a Hornby fan, but it appears to be the case that it's Nick Hornby, rather than the genre he started, that's actually worth reading. Amongst others, I just polished off one of the books reviewed by Kimmel, Benjamin Kunkel's much-hyped Indecision. Meh. The characters are unlikable, the plot is wildly unconvincing, the transformation is both instant and obviously superficial (resembling nothing so much as a brainwashing), and 9/11 is shoehorned into the book in the most awkward fashion imaginable. The problem is, Hornby had heart while his imitators have only brain. It's a shame.

May 26, 2006 | Permalink


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Hornby had heart once, but did you read How to Be Good? It fit that description of Indecision to a tee. Just awful.

Posted by: punkass marc | May 26, 2006 11:57:11 AM

I don't know -- I didn't love How To Be Good, but nor did I hate it as much as others have. It wasn't cerebral in the way Indecision is, though.

Long Way Down also isn't that good. Hornby used to have characters, now it seems he has premises.

Posted by: Ezra | May 26, 2006 12:02:16 PM

Martin Amis.

Posted by: sprocket | May 26, 2006 12:25:16 PM

Best young writer now is David Bezmozgis, a Latvian-Jewish immigrant to Toronto. His collection of short stories, "Natasha," is awesome. It's not quite lad-lit. It's much better.

Posted by: Dave | May 26, 2006 3:35:47 PM

Does this really include Hornby or Amis? Or is it just that "About a Boy" as a film taps into it? (Because, partly, I think this is about a string of films, including Wedding Crashers, too.) These things seem more American than that, at least the ones I've seen, and they seem to be the inheritors of Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, hardly the richest bloodline to begin with. I think the structural problem with them is that it's different for boys: the girly wish fulfillment of freshfaced girl from college making her way in the big city has no real male parallel (in fiction, I mean - I think it's why gay boys identify with Mary Tyler Moore, and now Carrie Bradshaw and the SATC gals). Thus the "I lead a cool life from my family money and get laid fairly regularly" isn't a problem, it's a solution. Who needs character development after that? :) Perhaps what's really needed is the sardonic tale of well behaved straitlaced boy who, after a night of debauchery sells his idea for a cool new website and gets to become the lazy rich boy who goes out and parties and gets laid? Isn't that really what the wish fulfillment would look like?

Posted by: weboy | May 26, 2006 4:23:33 PM

weboy: I think Ellis is actually rather good (and I am a hopeless lit-nerd of the Calvino/Eco/Borges/Burroughs school). Sensationalistic, sure, but Glamorama is one of the most entertaining and satirically precise popular novels I've ever read. The whole blank, amoral tone is spot-on for the subject matter. It's been said before, but Ellis is unquestionably an old school moralist. No Jonathan Swift, but still...

I don't buy the misogyny line on Ellis, either. Many of his characters are certainly misogynistic, and so is the world in which they move, but that says nothing about authorial belief.

Anyway, just curious why Ellis gets no love.

(one more cool thing about Glamorama: first word= specks; last word= mountain. Ah yes. Point tooken.)

Posted by: petomai | May 27, 2006 7:17:50 PM

Ellis gets no love - from me, anyway - because he is a dreadul writer who substitutes shock and gore for actual storytelling and character development. Having slogged through Less than Zero and The Rules of Attraction, I won't get fooled again. Rules of Attraction is especially juvenile and poor. Blank and amoral? If only. Che4ap and sensationalistic, mostly. I'm amazed people take him seriously, especially after all this time.

Clear enough?

Posted by: weboy | May 28, 2006 10:00:57 AM

The best Nick Hornby book is not a novel. It's just that Americans will find Fever Pitch hard to read.

Posted by: nick s | May 30, 2006 2:24:13 AM

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