All 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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As longtime readers of this blog know, I try to avoid reading published reviews, whether positive, negative, or indifferent. There are several reasons for this. The reason currently in the lead is that I’m working on a the first draft of a new book. A reviewer’s voice in my ear, particularly about a book I finished writing four years ago, is just too much for me to handle. I really do aspire to be like Edna Mode: “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.”
But that should have no bearing on whether you read this review by Canada’s own Paul Xylinides. He’s posted it on his blog, and it’ll soon be up at Dactyl Review as well. Give it a look. If you’ve read Dismantle, agree with him, disagree with him, engage with him in some other fashion. If you haven’t read Dismantle, you’ll find on your left ways to remedy that.
Paul, you have my thanks.
I certainly hope so. (From Dactyl Review)
Dismantle the Sun (Booktrope, 324 pages) is literary, but if you are looking for a novel of bright sunshine, lollipops along with skittles and beer, this is not the book for you. It reeks pathos; “wrenches” is the term used on the back cover of the book, and the work lives up to that term. It is an uncomfortable read because you are being dragged into the intimate, excruciating dynamics of a couple where the wife is dying and the husband is struggling with that reality.
There is old legislative saying that funding senior citizen center is hard because no one voting believes they’ll ever use it. Speaking of death is in much the same vein. It is something that happens to other people. Reading about death becomes more uncomfortable the older you get. Death in your 80s is to be expected. But in Dismantle the Sun, death is coming at an early age and in a loving family. Worse, it is a festering death, a prolonged agony which is just as hard on the dying as on the living. Actually, it is harder on the living because the living suddenly – as the book poignantly charts – have three lives: their workaday lives, with which the spouse had no connection, their days coping with an ending over which they have no control, and struggling to reorient themselves to the inevitable reality that they will have to move on alone.
“Wrenching” is indeed the word to use to describe this world and Dismantle the Sun is a good title for the work. But it is very well written.
–Steven C. Levi, author of How Nags Head lost its Apostrophe, 2011
I’ll take “wrenching”, especially when combined with “poignantly” and “well written”, but I can be a twisted (and self-serving) little cruller. What do you think?
My review of Jim Murdoch’s novel Milligan and Murphy is up on the Dactyl Review site. Given that my review is mixed, I must say that Mr. Murdoch is an awfully good sport.
Nerds everywhere are busy analyzing every pixel of the Star Trek Into Darkness trailer as if it were the Zapruder film. They needn’t bother. Based on what I saw, another British actor comes after parallel-universe Trek crew, bent on revenge and armed with science fiction megaexplosive #37. What a fecund imagination that JJ Abrams has.
According to this Slate article, the Mormon church may be in the process of evolving on homosexuality. Slate’s summary of the church’s current advice to parents of gay children: “Don’t throw your children out of the house because they’re gay. Do teach them, though, not to have gay sex.” Now if only the church could go back in time to 1958, it could congratulate itself for serving as a progressive force in American life.
Today, Mitch McConnell filibustered his own bill. Maybe we’ve got the problem in Congress wrong. Could it be that there’s just some sort of addictive element to filibustering and McConnell can’t help chasing the dragon?
And speaking of disgusting pests that are nearly impossible to get rid of, bed bugs have taken to infesting library books. These little bastards are really pissing me off.