Some That Man Might Be?

All That Man IsAll That Man Is by David Szalay

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I kept waiting for the irony to kick in.

As I read stories of one white, straight, male, European protagonist after another, I kept waiting for the joke that would make the book’s title pay off. I confess I may have missed it. By the sixth story, I was getting antsy. But if the ironic twist was in there somwhere, I never saw it. Which means I had to take the title and the book as sincere and proceed from the assumption that David Szalay thought he’d truly found something universal about the life of men on Earth, and that the best way he could think of to report his discovery through a fantastically narrow range of characters.

I don’t think he has. The book’s title writes a check that the stories, taken collectively, can’t cash. It fails even to capture All That European Men Are. Not all European men are white, for one thing. And, for another, not all European men treat women as nothing but sex objects. (Also, not all European women are as one dimensional as Szalay’s.) To be fair, the last story does have a gay, or bi, protagonist. His sexuality comes into play only insofar as its revelation cost him his marriage, but he’s still a relief after eight straight straight guys. If only there’d been more like him.

All That Man Is contains a great deal fine writing. The stories, on a line-by-line level, are well crafted, with considerable wit, humor, and pathos. It’s just that the overall project strikes me as so ill-conceived that I can’t recommend it.

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