Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lad Lit's Beginning and End

Benjamin Kunkel's novel Indecision belongs to a burgeoning genre that Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor at SUNY Stony Brook, calls "lad lit," the disaffected male counterpart to "chick lit."

Kunkel is one of the editors of n+1magazine, which I've had a link to on the side of this website. [Elif Batuman's article "Babel in California" from the second issue was one of the most entertaining pieces of lit crit I've read in years.] Indecision is Kunkel's first novel.

Kimmel, in a nasty review in the Chronicle of Higher Education, writes:
"Kunkel's is the latest in a spate of books that have collectively been dubbed "lad lit," the male riposte to "chick lit" — that juggernaut spearheaded by Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary in 1996, which sold two million copies and spawned both a sequel and a companion book, two films, and countless imitators. Each of the recent lad novels is a sort of anti-bildungsroman, in which a sardonic, clever, unapologetic slacker refuses to grow up, get a meaningful job, commit to relationships, or find any meaning in life."
A friend of mine who works at Harper Collins noticed recently that all of the chick lit writers are really well-educated -- or at least educated at really good schools. We wondered at what it must take to write literary fiction. The same is apparently true of lad lit -- it's written by smarties (Kunkel went to Harvard), but it isn't high art either.

Michael Kimmel sarcastically summarizes 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.
Ouch! Some of that sounds a little too close to home! Some of it.

Kimmel's conclusion: "Women won't read these books unless there is some hope of redemption, some effort these guys make to change. And men won't read them because, well, real men don't read."

Mine: I plan on reading Indecision as soon as my booze 'n whores bender subsides.

UPDATE: I bought a copy of Indecision. Snide remarks forthcoming.


Blogger leinenkluegel said...

haha~ here are my words deflowering your blog! i can't believe i had to make one in order to respond. it's called 'blogs are for pussies.' anyway, this kunkel kharacter, although he is reportedly a "hunk" and has an adorably goofy germanic last name, begins his dick-lit "indecision" by comparing his sleeping girlfriend to a dog. and decides he, in fact, prefers dogs. yes, i only read the first chapter via newyorktimes, but i don't think it takes a knee-jerk feminist to assume that this piece of dick-lit was written by a real dick. straight up.

1:48 PM  
Blogger The Masticator said...

That's true! I tried to justify his girlfriend-to-dog comparo by thinking about how much I love dogs. I'm a prologue + one chapter into the book and I hate it. The voice is grating. Can't stand the character. I plan on finishing it so I can write a review of it. Trying to keep an open mind.

11:46 PM  

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