October 18, 2007

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(Not That You Asked), by Steve Almond (Random House, 2007, 286 pages)
Reviewed by Eric W. Saeger news@hippopress.com

Payback could be a super-bitch here, as Steve Almond was the bane of my existence for a few depressing weeks, i.e. an editor to whom I answered, and how. Never before had my genius babblings been punted back to me with so many “gently suggested changes” slashed across them in red-fonted claw-marks. I hate your woman-lusting guts, Almond, and I’m glad you have another NYT bestseller going here so that you no longer have to dummy down and English 101-ize my multiple-award-winning snark.

Mister Man here is someone the rest of you should like, though, and not merely because he writes very goodly. He once wrote a book about heavy metal, the official music of New Hampshire. When famous industrio-fascist Condi Rice was selected as the 2006 commencement speaker at Boston College, he resigned in protest (and in public, natch, in the Boston Globe). And he really likes his new baby, probably because it found his wife’s collection of available genes vastly more appealing than his own.

(Not That You Asked) is Almond’s second collection of scruffy if rather polite rants, the sequel to 2005’s Candyfreak. Historically, the author has been prolific at sneaking cutesy, soft-core ribaldry into such publications as Playboy and Nerve.com, forever working to rebirth himself as a male Britt Ekland in a female-Minsky’s world. A lot of fellas can do that shtick well, myself included, but Almond is one of the few who strive to be its Shakespeare, thus you’re treated here to jive-turkey ruminations on erotic chest-waxing, the wrongness of breast augmentation and disgusting things he did in his youth. Success at this style of writing is measured by how many secrets of the male species one gives away, and Almond hits Dick Cheney levels at several points — if you don’t laugh, seek therapy pronto.

Almond thinks Kurt Vonnegut is God, and busily hates himself for it for something like three million pages. That part you can skip unless your eyes are fat and really need the exercise.

What Almond truly excels at is sniping at that New World Order thingamajig George W. Bush is trying to pull off with his Democratic Party henchpeople. Nobody’s safe when Almond is in that mode; he gets crazed, seeing evil in every rich person, which, as everyone knows, is completely justified. When Oprah Winfrey’s handlers — and this happened in real life — inform him that he’s being considered for her Reading is Fundamental For Values-Voting Soccer Moms Book Club or whatever, he sends a series of increasingly psychotic-sounding letters to O herself, telling her in no uncertain terms to buzz off, then taking it back, then stalking her for forgiveness.

It’d be nice to see him blog on the liberal Web sites, even if they’re a tragic waste of pixels. The author will be at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Oct. 19. Please refrain from telling him where I live. A- —Eric W. Saeger