Books Are Pretty

Saturday, August 30, 2008

When Pacino's Hot, I'm Hot.

"Wow," said my friend Char, as she slouched on my sofa, flipping idly through the pages of this book, "this is a really offensive story. Have you read it? It's about having sex with a fat woman."

"Oh, god. I haven't read it yet," I said, "it's next on my list of books to review."

"Huh," she said, putting the book face down on the floor, where I picked it up later and read the story in question, "Peggy."

If I was the cynical type, I thought, I'd think this was going to be a string of sentences all run together, all unified by the same centuries-old joke, "FAT WOMEN! BWAAA HA HA HA HA! SEX WITH FAT WOMEN IS HILARIOUS!" and feeling that that was enough to make the story funny and brilliant.

At her hotel, to which we necessarily took separate cabs, the first thing Peggie did was crack open, and inhale, the complete contents of a package of Mallomars. Then, from a utility-kitchen refrigerator, she retrieved and devoured (in exactly what order I don't recall) a container of chicken wings, a combo plate of tacos and an economy-size tub of Velveeta.)

Sigh. This is why cynics insist that they're not really cynics, they're just realists. It's less the subject matter that annoys me, although it's casual cruelty definitely does, and more the fact that I'm supposed to find the punchline hilarious even after I've heard it a million times. It's like The Aristocrats joke - the punchline isn't funny, so the set-up better be unique. It isn't. "Peggy," reads like a blog entry that's good enough to attract a decent amount of d00ds, but not good enough to be in book form. Think of Levin as a senior citizen version of Tucker Max, and that's pretty much what you get.

The title story is another womanizer who capitalizes on his vague resemblance to Dustin Hoffman and/or Al Pacino in order to pick up women. A short, dark haired guy with that nebulous ethnic look, he acquires a girlfriend with an IQ that hovers around room temperature who adores him. The girlfriend, who is saddled with the unfortunate name of Roger, speaks almost entirely in malapropisms.

Her father, she said, had been a profligator of languigistics at a presticated universalment but had quit his tender position and dissipated.

And so on.

Judging from other reviews I've read, men find these short stories side-splitting, but the sancimonious women's studies set has always been a tougher crowd, so what can I tell you? Other reviewers also found the story "Spinning on the Meat Wheel of Conception" - great title, by the way - to be one of the weaker entries, but I'm going to disagree again, because I think it was pretty strong. "Spinning" focuses on male anxiety regarding conception, again asking the age-old questions both men and women ask themselves, "Am I ready?", "Is this really what I want?", "Is my sex life going to be ruined?" These questions grow heavier in the nebbish-y Steve's mind, and at last his nerves are shot, resulting in a total ability to perform. This continues unabated until his wife, Connie, creatively solves the problem by making the night of contraception a night to remember by being unspeakably filthy. The yin and yang between the two, her strength when his is lost, his caution when she is reckless, form a perfect circle on which new life can begin.

And that's how you write a story. Having a fat woman eat Velveeta isn't enough.

"Spinning" made for a good lead-in to Levin's essays, which made up the second half of the book.

The essays raise the caliber of the book considerably. His theories regarding the ways religion and politics are used to ward off the fear of death have a strong ring of originality and genuine passion, making them more interesting by far. Others, in particular "Recycle This!" where he describes his aggravation with recycling and the absurdity of washing one's garbage, is a must-read. Also essential reading is Levin's 2003 essay "Redefining Insurance Fraud," where Levin battles insurance companies.

...most of the 45 million-plus Americans who go without insurance because they can't afford the premiums oppose the alternative of a not-for-profit system. It apparently hasn't occurred to them that there'd be no significant risk to capitalism in this solution. We've already got "socialized" institutions in this country - fire departments, for example - that hardly infringe on our freedom to take advantage of one another. A few more would still leave us with plenty of opportunities to exploit our fellow man.

(And speaking of a not-for-profit health care system, does anyone seriously think that dealing with a government bureaucracy would somehow be more brutal than dealing with Aetna, Prudential, or Oxford?)

Well, yeah. That's pretty much it.

When Pacino's Hot, I'm Hot is a somewhat erratic collection, lending some truth to the title. When Levin's Hot, He's Hot. But when he's not, he's not.


by Robert Levin
January, 2008 by Drill Press LLC
Paperback, 109pp
ISBN: 061518765X

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