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Archive for the ‘Literature Reviews’ Category

A few of the books enjoyed by the Cowboy in 2011 (not necessarily written in that year):

The End of the Party – The Rise and Fall of New Labour (Andrew Rawnsley)

Following the inevitable plethora of political memoirs that followed new labour’s demise in 2010, it was difficult to determine fact from fiction with each offering spun in favour of the author and his actions, no doubt to the detriment of the truth. Sight alone of Rawnsley’s chronicling of labour’s conduct in office following its second general election victory, suggests that his will be a more satisfactory appraisal, running as it does to 895 pages including 90 pages of references. Readers of The Observer will be familiar with Rawnsley’s concise and informative political commentary and it is this tight style, together with the attention to detail and quality of the sources (Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Powell, Balls, Darling etc), that gives The End its authoritative voice.

I do not consider myself as having more than a passing interest in politics, but I devoured The End in several days, captivated by the punchy, often wry and humorous writing used to describe the many key disagreements that punctuated this mostly shambolic government. The chapters covering the Brown and Blair wars are fascinating, and it is incredible to think that they managed to promote a (largely) united front to the unknowing public for so many years. Brown, in particular, comes across as the most grotesque individual imaginable; an emotionally retarded, yet physical hulk of a man with no concept of how his behaviour affected others:

“‘He was astonishingly rude to people.’ Civil servants were shocked by his habit of abruptly getting up and leaving meetings when officials were in the middle of speaking. He became notorious within the building for shouting at the duty clerks, bawling at the superbly professional staff who manned the Number 10 switchboard and blowing up at the affectionately regarded ‘Garden Girls’, so called because the room from which they provide Downing Street’s secretarial services overlooks the garden. When one of the secretaries was not typing fast enough for an angrily impatient Prime Minister, he turfed the stunned garden girl out of her chair and took over the keyboard himself. Word of these incidents reached the alarmed ears of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, who was becoming increasingly anxious about the Prime Minister’s behaviour. The Cabinet Secretary was so concerned about the garden girl episode that he made his own inquiries into it. Though the worst excesses of the Prime Minister’s temper were kept hidden, it was inevitable that some accounts began to filter out across Whitehall and then into the media, which reported stories about mobile phones being hurled in fury and the furniture being kicked.

One civil servant who applied for a position at Number 10 was asked at the interview whether he could cope with ‘extreme verbal abuse’ and violence done to objects. The civil servant was so scared by the description of what it could be like to work for the Prime Minister that he withdrew his application.”

Aside from the intrigue of warts-and-all access to our decision makers, what struck me was the draining nature of high politics – the frequent 6am talks, late-night skulduggery, briefings and de-briefings with the individual all the while expected to function as a human being. Family life seldom receives any mention and it is hard to see where moments that we take for granted – a simple Sunday lunch, a pleasant afternoon stroll – could ever feature in a career politician’s schedule packed with issues such as war, internal conflict and the credit crunch. No wonder Cherie turned into a fruit-loop.

Boxer Beetle (Ned Beauman)

“A collector of Nazi memorabilia. A nine-toed gay Jewish boxer. A 1930s aristocrat with a yen for eugenics. Ned Beauman’s time-travelling debut takes the cast list from the film Tarantino never made and adds perhaps the creepiest McGuffin of all time: a swastika-marked beetle, the Anophthalmus Hitleri.”

– Time Out

Whoever wrote the above paragraph that appears on the reverse of Ned Beauman’s entertaining debut novel should receive a stiff pat on the back for services to decent copywriting. It was likely the duel references to a nine-toed gay Jewish boxer and a swastika-marked beetle bearing Hitler’s name that encouraged me to dispense with £7.99 of my hard-earned English wonga. Thankfully, it was a worthwhile punt.

The book travels between the present day and the mid-1930s, with the modern-day narrative tracking the exploits of a Nazi memorabilia collector and the historic chapters dealing with said gay Jewish boxer (Seth ‘Sinner’ Roach) and hapless facist and discoverer of Anophthalmus Hitleri, Philip Erskine. Sinner is a ridiculous creation, an aggressive short-arse who lives for booze, fighting and squalid sexual encounters, barely offering sentences extending beyond one or two words (often a curt, “fuck off”, which reminds me of John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski“shut the fuck up, Donny”). The narrative is fast-paced with hugely enjoyable exchanges between Sinner and the awkward Erksine:

“And just then, as he watched, the beetle shot out of the case with an explosion of glass and soil and flew straight for the opposite table, on which there was a sack of live earthworms that Erksine had ordered from a fishing shop in Richmond. It punctured the bag with a meaty thud and then the bag began to shiver. Erksine screamed.

‘Roach! Roach! Come, for God’s sake!’

Sinner came in and stared at the bag.

‘Get it out!’

‘Get what out?’

‘The beetle. Get it out of there before it gets away. But don’t kill it.’

‘How am I supposed to do that?’

Erksine wasn’t sure.”

The plot is entertaining enough but like a Tarantino film, you get the feeling that the style, development and activities of the characters are what drive the creator, and this is no bad thing. To some extent, Boxer Beetle reminds me of another great character writer – Carl Hiaasen – and in both instances the characters carry the story, rather than the reader avidly page-turning to find out the next plotline twist. While ‘serious’ literature (see The Corrections below, for example) rewards the reader on a traditional emotional level, surreal stylistic outings such as Boxer Beetle too have their place, and long may it continue.

The Celestial Cafe (Stuart Murdoch)

As a big Belle & Sebastian fan, I’ve often read Stuart Murdoch’s gently entertaining blog posts on the band’s website, and The Celestial Cafe is a collection of his diaries from 2002 – 2006 (by way of flavour, Dear Catastrophe Waitress – see my album review here: – https://shanghaicowboy.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/best-albums/ was written in 2003). Anyone familiar with B & S will know not to expect raucous tales of binge-drinking, sexual promiscuity and general rock ‘n roll excess; instead, we read about his struggles on the football field, what makes a good cafe and occasional insights into the background for certain songs.

In terms of musical history, don’t expect nuggets of information about song-writing craft, which is a shame considering the information he must have to pass on. Similarly, discussions about one-time partner of Murdoch and fellow B & S member Isobel Campbell are off-limits, save for a few minor exchanges:

“Katrina asked if I was taking anyone to the dinner. She needed to know for numbers.

‘Is Isobel coming?’ I said.

‘What’s that got to do with it?’

‘I’m just curious. I might have to get a partner.’

‘What? I don’t understand.’

‘I just want… Well, I’m just thinking I might need some sort of…”

Murdoch comes across as a solitary creature during this period, not surprising as the start of the diaries comes soon after Isobel left the band in 2002. However rather than moping, he throws himself into community church projects with his religious faith omnipresent throughout the diaries. His love of the band is also a strong constant and it is clear that this is where his life priorities lie. As with his lyrics, Murdoch is best when making curious observations on modern life:

“I looked for the graffiti in the toilets, ‘PUSH BARman TO OPEN old wounds’ doctored as ‘plEASE don’t put YOUR FEET IN THE SEAts’, but it had disappeared, and I felt old like I always feel old these days. I ranted against the blokes who stand in the middle of dancefloors supping pints, surveying all, like frigging lighthouses, sucking up space, making it impossible to dance.”

The burgeoning Scotland music scene is also represented with enthusiastic praisings of his sometime football partners, Franz Ferdinand (‘they’ve got words, action and groove in all the right places’) and tales of coffee house rendezvous with fellow indie darlings, Camera Obscura. Murdoch also includes some of his participatory blog threads, where he allows his readers to create the content. Here are some of the responses to his poser on things that are sexy without involving sex:

“Clear and malleable unpierced ears. I find them sexy.

– Raquel

I’m a sucker for a boy with protruding veins in his forearms. I’m pretty sure this stems from my first love who played a lot of tennis and had great forearms. This might sound as if I like men with tons of muscles, but that’s not the case, just toned arms with active veins.

– Kristine

Long hair on a man. To keep long hair nice, clean and shiny takes dedication, and if a man can take the time to be that dedicated to his hair, you must wonder what else he could be dedicated to.

– Eve

I work at a university and yesterday there was a girl from the track-and-field team sitting and studying in the coffee shop. She was obviously a sprinter, and the torso of a young sprinter of Scandinavian descent is about as sexy as it gets.

– Ray”

Barney’s Version (Mordecai Richler)

I must confess to coming to this book after watching the recent film adaptation staring Paul Giamatti as the eponymous anti-hero. The trailer hadn’t really caught me, but I’m a sucker for a free Picturehouse screening on a Sunday and still relish Giamatti’s performance in Sideways, so I gave it a whirl. Alas the film was fairly average and failed – I realised after reading the book – to capture Barney’s voice as it appears on page, removing any redeeming feature from his character (the wit doesn’t come through) which allows at least a modicum of connection by the audience.

As is implicit by the novel’s title, the story of Barney’s life as delivered in the novel is but a version of the truth. The narrator is first of all Barney who of course cannot be objective about his own activities. We later learn that Barney has Alzheimer’s disease muddying the water further. The novel is littered with footnotes, which at first we think must be corrections by Barney of his disease-caused memory lapses, however we ultimately find out that [spoiler] these have been added by his son Michael, who finally edits the collected diaries. The footnotes made the book for me, occasionally exposing Barney’s knowing lies to enhance his own reputation, but also adding an air of seriousness to the absurd, thus creating farce. The following example concerns Barney’s decision at his own wedding to “The Second Mrs Panofsky” to pursue his future third wife by fleeing the reception to track her down on a departing train:

“’Please, Barney, don’t embarrass me any further. Get off the train at Montreal West.’

‘If I do, will you agree to have dinner with me in Toronto?’

‘No,’ she said, leaping and grabbing a bag from the overhead rack. ‘Now I’m going to my sleeper and I’m locking the door. Good night.’

‘You’re not being awfully friendly, considering the trouble I’ve gone to.’

‘You’re crazy. Good night.’

‘I did stagger of the train at Montreal West¹…’

¹My doubts about the chronology of these events were confirmed when I discovered that the hockey game, on April 9, 1959, ended at 10:29, but the overnight train to Toronto left at 10:25, which meant that it would have been impossible for my father to learn the final score and still have time to race to Windsor Station and board my mother’s train. However, when I confronted my mother with these troubling details, her lower lip began to tremble. ‘It’s true,’ she said, ‘it’s true.’ And then she began to sob, and I thought it insensitive to pursue the matter further.

I do not doubt my father’s veracity or my mother’s testimony, but I do believe Barney muddled things. Miriam probably left the Ritz at the end of the second period, at 9:41, and my father’s taxi was not tied up in Stanley Cup traffic until he returned from the Montreal West Station. Another possibility is that the departure on the overnight train to Toronto was delayed. I have twice written to Canadian Pacific to ask for the departure time of the overnight train to Toronto, on April 9, 1959, but I am still waiting for a reply.”

In terms of basic structure, the novel is divided into sections dealing with his three wives, the last of whom, Miriam, remains ‘his heart’s desire’. Indeed, even though the other Mrs Panofskys receive dedicated chapters, these are still punctuated by references to Miriam, and he labours under the delusion that he may one day win her back, despite his greater love for liquor and ice hockey. The reader knows, of course, that this will never happen and his efforts are both touching and humerous.

Another particularly enjoyable aspect of Barney’s Version is his regular contretemps with friend-turned-nemesis, Terry McIver. A writer of low-brow literature (in Barney’s eyes, at any rate) it is McIver’s decision to publish his memoirs that prompts Barney to do the same, determined to contradict McIver’s slurs on his character. The exchanges between Barney and McIver are comedy gold and while a small excerpt cannot do justice, below is a taster of the tone from a letter by McIver to Barney, after Barney’s son trashes McIver’s latest work in an American broadsheet:

‘Dear Barney,

To each his own albatross.

From the day of your arrival in Paris, touchingly gauche, ill-educated, pushy, it was abundantly clear to me (and others I could name) that you were consumed with envy for my talent. Nay, obsessed is what you were, ingratiating yourself by feigning friendship. I was not fooled. But I took pity on you and watched.

I have heard that your maternal grandfather was a junk dealer, so it strikes me as altogether fitting, a symmetry of sorts, that you have subsequently become wealthy as a purveyor of TV trash to the ‘hoi polloi’. I was not surprised, given your vengeful nature, that you considered it droll to title an especially prurient series ‘McIver of the RCMP’. Neither was I astonished to see you suffering at the Leacock Auditorium when I recently read to a sell-out audience. But, fool I am, I believed that there was some calumny that even you would not stoop to. Congratulations, Barney.’

I can do little more than recommend this with every feeble fibre of my mortal being.

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)

Well, OK – I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m in the final third and enjoying it immensely; lush, rich yet tight prose with characters that are somehow both familiar and slightly over-the-top. It is one of those books which you read around midnight, eyes half closed, willing a natural paragraph break so you can fold the corner and restart tomorrow. An excellent purchase at £2.50 from a second-hand bookshop and I look forward to seeing what the end brings. Sample paragraph below:

“She was naive enough, she told Denise, to think this ended the discussion. She had a good marriage, stably founded on childrearing, eating, and sex. It was true that she and Brian had different class backgrounds, but High Temp Products wasn’t exactly E. I. Du Pont de Nemours, and Robin, holding degrees from two elite schools, wasn’t your typical proletarian. Their few real differences came down to style, and these differences were mostly invisible to Robin, because Brian was a good husband and a nice guy and because, in her cow innocence, Robin couldn’t imagine that style had anything to do with happiness. Her musical tastes ran to John Prine and Etta James, and so Brian played Prine and James at home and saved his Bartok and Defunkt and Flaming Lips and Mission of Burma for blasting on his boom box at High Temp. That Robin dressed like a grad student in white sneakers and a purple nylon shell and oversized round wireframes last worn by fashionable people in 1978 didn’t altogether disappoint Brian, because he along among men got to see her naked. That Robin was high-strung and had a penetrating screechy voice and a kookaburra laugh seemed, likewise, a small price to pay for a heart of gold and an eye-popping streak of lechery and a racing metabolism that kept her movie-actress thin. That Robin never shaved her armpits and too seldom washed her glasses-well, she was the mother of Brian’s children, and as long as he could play his music and tinker with his tensors by himself, he didn’t mind indulging in her the anti-style that liberal women of a certain age wore as a badge of feminist identity. This, at any rate, was how Denise imagined Brian had solved the problem of style until the money from W—— came rolling in.”

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“My interview with Britney Spears was going nowhere. I looked at her, crossing her legs and fidgeting on the hotel-room couch next to me. She didn’t give a shit. There was only one way to save this interview: I had to sarge her. As I taught her how to read different types of eye movements, she clung to every word. Her legs uncrossed and she leaned in toward me. The game was on.”

– Extract from The Game by Neil Strauss

For many local journalists, the assignment call from the news editor is a humbling exercise in routine humiliation and habitual disappointment, a brief exchange where your childhood dreams of national by-lines, explosive scoops and social justice are crushed by the coldly delivered words “injured hedgehog makes an unlikely feathered friend”. However if you are Neil Strauss, writer for the New York Times and co-author of Motley Crue’s debauched bio The Dirt, you needn’t worry about scuttling down to the local vets when your editor calls, it’s a different type of tail you’ll be hunting.

Forgive me, father

Strauss’ ascent to sarging immortality begins with a call from his book editor, asking that he create a publishable novel from subtly-titled online document The How-to-Lay-Girls Guide – a 150 page scrapbook of hints and tips from masters in the world of female seduction. Single, awkward and journalistically curious, Strauss attacks the layguide with all the verve of an office intern unzipping a US president:

“The moment I started reading, my life changed. More than any other book or document – be it The Bible, Crime and Punishment, or The Joy of Cooking – the layguide opened my eyes. And not necessarily because of the information in it, but because of the path it sent me hurtling down.”

Give us a snog, darlin'

With both The Joy of Cooking and The Bible put firmly in their places, Strauss feverishly trawls through the newsgroups and websites recommended in the layguide, conscientiously noting the community’s main players. Included in this band of merry swordsmen are Mystery: a flamboyant showman acknowledged by Strauss’ research as “the most worshipped pickup artist in the community”; Ross Jeffries: one of the founding fathers of the seduction community, but now an aged and lecherous Benny Hill figure who spends his days hitting on 20-something waitresses; Juggler: a ridiculously-named cyber behemoth who dominates the online seduction forums with his enthusiastic field postings. His appetite whetted, Strauss swiftly adopts the must-have one-word moniker (Style) before declaring it his “full-time job and obsession to hunt down the greatest pickup artists in the world and beg for shelter under their wings”. His subsequent exploits and experiences comprise The Game.

Adriaaaaaaan!!!

It is perhaps worth taking a moment to consider Strauss’ self-deprecating description of himself as “far from attractive”. So, you’re thinking, is his low self-esteem triggered by the horrific scars of childhood acne, an award-winning monobrow or a pitifully small todger? No, you’re way off:

“I’m not the kind of guy women giggle over at a bar or want to take home when they’re feeling drunk and crazy. All I have is my mind and nobody can see that. I have indentations on either side of my forehead, which I like and believe add character to my face, though I’ve never actually been complimented on them.”

I'm a real fun guy, honest

Of course, slight facial indentations – tough break. With Strauss’ underdog status cemented, it’s clear we’re heading into Rocky territory, but with blemished intellectuals sucking it to the jocks, rather than monosyllabic New Yorkers overcoming adversity by beating up, well, monosyllabic Russians. However, what elevates the book from mundane cliché into humorous romp is the refusal by Strauss to belittle the world of the pick-up artist, faithfully reporting the often ludicrous sarging activities with childlike intrigue, reserving full judgment until the final third of the novel.

This style of reporting accentuates the bizarre traits of the PUAs (pick-up-artist – you can have that one for free) such as Mystery and Jeffries, much in the manner that the best comic creations have no outside awareness of their own ludicrous behaviour. This is perhaps best demonstrated by Strauss’ inclusion of a glossary of words and phrases deployed in the seduction community, going so far as to indicate the grammatical context and creator of said word or phrase. Here are a few terms that any aspiring PUA should have in his locker:

“AFC – noun [average frustrated chump]: a stereotypical nice guy who has no pickup skills or understanding of what attracts women. Origin: Ross Jeffries.

Sarge – 1. Verb: to pick up women, or to go out to try and meet women. 2. Noun: a woman who has been picked up. Origin: Aardvark.

Neg – noun: an ambiguous statement or seemingly accidental insult delivered to a beautiful woman a pickup artist has just met, with the intent of actively demonstrating to her (or her friends) a lack of interest in her. Origin: Mystery.

Kino – verb [from kinaesthesia, noun]: to touch or be touched, generally with suggestive intent or the purpose of arousal, such as hair-stroking, hand-holding, or hip-grabbing; precedes actual sexual contact. Origin: Ross Jeffries.

Cockblock – noun and verb: a person who interferes with or hinders a pickup artist’s game, whether accidentally or on purpose. A cock-block can be a friend of the women, a friend of the pickup artist, or a complete stranger.

Peacock – verb: to dress in loud clothing or with flashy accoutrements in order to get attention from women. Peacocking items include bright shiny shirts, light-up jewellery, feather boas, colourful cowboy hats, or anything else that makes one stand out in a crowd. Origin: Mystery.”

My cockywock

Of all the phrases, it is perhaps peacocking that provides the most amusement, the idea that being noticed is paramount, regardless of whether or not you like a colossal tool.

While easy to mock, the success of peacocking makes theoretical sense and has some evidential support. Perhaps the most high-profile modern-day peacocker is Russell Brand, a serial sarger and hate-figure to sexually-repressed Daily Mail readers across middle-England whose appeal is based on a combination of traditional peacocking (an outlandish physical appearance, in his case rakish goth) and a studiously devised extrovert personality. Across the pond, ex-NBA star and Big Brother failure Dennis Rodman is an extreme peacocker, rarely seen without lippy, mascara, a feather boa and – on occasions – a white wedding dress. Where us AFCs see a mentally unstable cross-dresser, Rodman laughs all the way to the condom vending machine, with his sarging zenith achieved during a brief marriage to Baywatch wank-fodder, Carmen Electra.

In England, however, peacocking is yet to gain momentum. In fact, it has become nigh-on impossible to differentiate young ‘lads’ from one another, with each wearing the standard-issue uniform of black Allsaints cardigan or the vulgar blue Lyle & Scott jumper. More recently, Jack Wills – overpriced ‘aspirational’ clothing targeting the middle-class – has been claimed by males of all ages and background, resulting in the comedy Saturday city centre image of neatly gelled chavs wearing hoodies emblazoned with the words ‘Oxford v Cambridge Varsity’. It should also be noted for the sake of balance that smug well-quiffed toffs wearing similar clothing is equally disheartening, particularly when they have the necessary resources to promote peacocking as acceptable British practice.

PEEKABOO!!!

Extreme peacocking

Strauss’ formative spell as a PUA is spent attending workshops organised by Mystery and his sidekick Sin. At the workshop, Mystery lays down the defining characteristic of a sophisticated PUA: “an amateur hits on a woman right away. A pro waits eight to ten minutes”. This eight to ten minute period is where the PUA comes into his own, running through Mystery’s steps in a prescribed order. Once the sarger has mastered the process, we are led to believe that nothing can stop him.

To demonstrate the success of his methods, Mystery takes Strauss out sarging to a trendy Hollywood nightspot, where he spies washed-up Happy Days actor Chachi* out on a double-date. Like many who grow up watching Happy Days re-runs, I fondly recall the escapades of Chachi, the ruffian mechanic who used his relationship with Joanie as a front to hide his latent homosexual desires for his cousin, The Fonz. Imagine, then, my horror when Mystery successfully sarges his tail, collecting her telephone number in under 10 minutes, leaving a confused and broken Chachi pleading to Strauss, “tell me this is all an illusion and he’s not actually stealing my girlfriend”. Just as I was about to halt my reading in protest at Mystery’s disrespectful handling of Chachi, Mystery stops the sarge, leaving Chachi free to bullshit his date into believing that he has some exciting projects in the pipeline.

* For those unfamiliar with Happy Days, he played the lead role in the 70s Jodie Foster version of Bugsy Malone, and was immortalised by Ben Stiller (“Joanie loves Chachi!”) in Dodgeball.

As highlighted above, Mystery’s successful sarge owed nothing to good luck or spontaneity, but a rigorous application of a tried and tested set of moves. In simple terms, these can be broken down into four stages:

Open

Every PUA should have a few openers in their armoury, the success or failure of which will determine whether the target allows the PUA a platform on which to perform. One of the most accomplished openers I was privy to was deployed by a friend of mine (let’s call him Ken), who never ventured out into the night unless armed with two lighters. A smoker, Ken kept a fully-functioning lighter at all times, together with a dud. Once inside the club/bar, he would approach the target and ask to borrow a lighter, flailing hopelessly at the dud with forefinger and thumb to lend credence to his tale. As Ken earnestly ran through his routine, I thought the pre-meditated nature of the move a little contrived, but in hindsight I can acknowledge that he was one step ahead of the game.

I'm REALLY REALLY LONELY 😦

While Ken was a one-trick chancer, Strauss and co boast a proven opener for every occasion. Where the target is within a mixed-group, rather than approach the target directly, the PUA should woo the group as a whole, gaining the approval of the target in the process. In such circumstances, Strauss rolls with the ice-breaker, “so, this is where the party’s at!” I remain sceptical about how this line would be received outside of white-noise London bars, anticipating it to be a fifty-fifty call between chastening indifference, or a polite invitation to ‘fuck off’. On the rare occasions where it is appropriate to engage the target in a one-on-one situation, we are told never to approach her from behind, but from the front at a slight angle, “like Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer”. Gold.

Most ludicrous of all is the ‘My Little Pony’ opener – “hey do you guys remember that shit, My Little Pony? Yeah, well I was trying to remember, did they have powers?” – a complex delivery that is either the result of intense study of the female psyche, or a worrying endorsement of the pulling methods of disgraced glam-rocker Garry Glitter. On a similar childhood-memory vein, I would like to propose ‘The Krang Opener’ (“hey, do you guys remember Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? What the fuck was with his brain, man?”), however I think the appeal is a little more niche.

Engage

Key to the Mystery approach is treating the target differently to how she is used to; for example, an attractive woman is used to a curious mix of compliments, lechery and groping. Taking stock of this information, the PUA adopts a different tactic and steams in with a reel of light abuse (or negs – see definition above – to use proper PUA parlance), the idea being that by refusing to show deference to the target, you are somehow more interesting to her. Slightly confused by the concept, I was relieved when the glossary produced some tried and tested killer negs, including “you kinda have man hands” and “is that a wig? Oh…well it looks nice anyway”. Rather unhelpfully, the text failed to provide witty follow-up lines should the target be midway through a sex change, or in remission; presumably one should simply GTFOOT (Get The Fuck Out Of There).

This idea of securing interest is also considered in Mystery’s ‘cat string theory’, a mind-blowing feline study which records how a cat will engage playfully when a line of string is tantalisingly kept above its paws, yet act with utter contempt when the string is dropped onto its paws. While I can see the logic at work, the theory is hampered by the incorrect assumption that a woman’s mind is no different to that of a common moggy. Taking Mystery’s theory through to its natural conclusion, any PUA worth his salt would never venture out unless armed with a bag of cat nip and a box of Whiskas. While you could try to pass security by arguing that the items are for personal use, you may be forced to take to your hands and knees and engage in an unpleasant public chow-down.

Attract

"Hey, is that guy over there groping her boobs?"

So, by now you’ve rudely interrupted a group of strangers, cornered an innocent women and subjected her to a tirade of systemic abuse. At this point, I anticipate you may be indulging in some moral questioning of your own conduct, perhaps agonising over whether or not you should conclude the sarge. If so, you need to go home and grow a pair. We’re moving into sixth.

Perhaps inspired by northern lothario Paul Daniels, the meat of the sarge requires the PUA to entertain the target with an ESP (extrasensory perception trick). Usually this will take the form of some piss-poor magic demonstration or spiritual reading (i.e. grope). Strauss’ ESP of choice is to ask the target to select a number between one and seven, because “there is a 70% chance that the answer will be 7”, a percentage – we are told – that will increase if the target is time-pressured into giving a response. However don’t be dispirited if your target fails within the 30% range, as there is always Mystery’s patented puppet show routine to call upon:

“Well-chosen props are a great way to focus a girl’s attention on something else so she doesn’t resist overt sexual moves. I agree. Say, “Look at the puppet show over there,” while you play with her tits. If she hesitates about the tit-play, simply point to the puppets and laugh, “Look at the puppets. Look, they are funny puppets.” Then play with the tits again.”

Unless you’re running an extreme game of sarging at kids parties, you may have to be creative to run this routine, perhaps substituting “dancers” for “puppets”, or something similar. Regardless of the wording, if the girl responds in a positive way and you feel good about this, you should take her to a mental hospital, and perhaps check yourself in too while you’re there.

Hear me now

The final stage comprises the kiss-close, a self-explanatory act that requires little elaboration. While the PUA will normally be in control of the sarge and able to dictate the timing of the move, the target may choose to ruin his game by making some overt sexual comments (“cor, I bet you’ve got a big wanger!”, or something). Strauss wrestles with this conundrum over several nights of dramatic introspection, before stumbling across an unlikely repost:

“Some women like to make extremely sexual comments after meeting a man. If the guy becomes uncomfortable, he fails. After watching the British television character Ali G, I discovered the solution: Just look her in the eye, nod approvingly, and, with a slight smile creeping across your face, say, “Respect,” in a smart-ass way.”

Inspired by Strauss’ leanings towards British comedy, I began listing other choice comedy phrases for serious deployment in the field. Top of my list was Alan Partridge’s “kiss my face”, a demanding yet playful take on the traditional kiss-close, followed by “I’m sorry, I’ve just cum”, a complex neg first coined by an unnamed Charlie Higson character in The Fast Show, with “feck off” (Father Jack Hackett in Father Ted) sweeping up the rear, being a last-ditch neg to be used at the end of a particularly barren night.

I am Jack’s raging boner

As for The Game itself, we follow Strauss as he forges close relationships both with Mystery and – to a lesser extent – Jeffries, picking up moves from each which he then combines and develops to create his own sarging identity. Within too long, he’s knee deep in poon, rattling off openers, EPSs and kino exchanges like social pleasantries, and becoming a heavy-weight figure in the online community. Basking in their own success and anxious to test the limits of their powers, Strauss, Mystery and his other protégés move to LA, renting a sprawling once-celebrity-owned mansion, where girls flow like water. In a nod to Fight Club the adventure is named ‘Project Hollywood’, an association which is highlighted when one of the residents possesses the moniker ‘Tyler Durden’.

If I told you I loved you, would that change our relationship?

The Fight Club parallels are at the core of the story: lonely and unfulfilled characters adopting alter-egos to satisfy their primal urges and gain acceptance. In the same way that new recruits arrive at Tyler Durden/The Narrator’s house in Fight Club, Strauss receives a visit to his flat from a kid who has flown from Hawaii to learn from him. The characters, too, follow the same pattern. Strauss is rational, intelligent and measured like Edward Norton’s narrator, while Mystery is a crazy nihilist in the manner of Brad Pitt’s Tyler. Ultimately, Project Hollywood suffers the same fate, imploding under the weight of its own ambitions and increasingly misogynistic personalities, while Strauss narrates from the sidelines, detached from the daily quarrels taking place around him.

Strauss is able to do this because he infiltrated the pick-up community mainly out of genuine intrigue, rather than a desire to suppress any negative personal issues. For characters such as Mystery and The Game’s Tyler Durden, being a PUA defines their being, it is an unhealthy obsession fuelled by in-house rivalry and a fear of rejection, and when things go against them, these negative issues, for example, abandonment and rage, rise to the surface.

None of this is, of course, anything new. People all around us exist outside of their true selves: the ‘crazy girl’ who dominates conversation with her loud voice because she is afraid of being exposed through silence; the muscular gym addict who compensates for his innate shyness through an imposing physique; the needy who follow the majority view, even where this means contradicting  their own private instincts.

Strauss, to his credit, doesn’t judge these people, and much of the research I have done suggests that he has been faithful in his characterisation of the main players in the community, and the real-life experiences that inform the book. Indeed, when a disillusioned Strauss predictably renounces the pick-up world and leaves the mansion with a serious girlfriend in tow, he highlights the positives derived from the experience, rather than character assassinate his former wingmen.

Admittedly, the story may come across to some people as a little contrived and whether the events that took place did actually happen to the degree described, has and will continue to be debated. However, as a novel it’s an entertaining read and well worth passing up some of your time for. While sarging is ultimately a lonely pursuit, part of me would like to come out of retirement just so I could visit the Newton Abbot Cyder Bar wearing a feather boa, and try the My Little Pony Opener, which ranks as one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

Just in case anyone with slight facial indentations is reading this, I have posted a video to Strauss appearing on a US TV show which can hopefully give you an idea on how to overcome such a grave trauma.

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