The Reluctant Metrosexual: Dispatches from an Almost Hip Life, by Peter Hyman, Villard Books, 2004, 275 pages.
Hipsters have it
Sure, being a
member of the New York City insightful-social-commentary-producing elite can
seem glamorous. You get to go to parties related to having a job at Vanity
Fair and use words like “ersatz.” But your love life is likely to be of the
tragicomic variety and, despite all yearnings to the contrary, you must be
ever vigilant against happiness as it dulls your edge. And while it must be
lovely to live in a world where obsessive introspection, schadenfreude and
sarcasm-filled depression are socially acceptable, it must also be—on
Peter Hyman knows this.
An author of the “first-person-journalism” kind (a literary style also known as “humorous essays” or “self-absorbed letters to your parents”), Hyman has written a book, The Reluctant Metrosexual, entirely about him and, for the most part, his failures. At love, at career, at coolness.
Think about the improbability of this for a moment. You and I fail too, but nobody’s giving us a book deal. (Though, if one were offered…)
Hyman, therefore, realizes that his failures, related in sarcasm-filled, urbane-anecdote-stuffed stories, must be special. They must stick out from the failure-related stories you and I tell about our own lives. They must be funnier and more city-cool than the other books by urbane twenty- and thirty-somethings with funny, cool stories of failure. They must transcend that style of wit that is both humorously judgmental and mock-unknowingly self-effacing. They must be objectively introspective. Detachedly involved. Meta-funny.
This can be a difficult pose to hold for very long, requiring as it does so many twists and turns of whose joke is on whom. And that in itself can be funny, because nearly nobody can really hold their nose in the air while letting their glasses geekily slide down it. Hyman recognizes this. After all, he offers this criticism of the book in his introduction: “This book is a pompous exercise in self-aggrandizement that tries too hard to be funny and displays the author’s under-nourished but delusional sense of his own importance.”
We get here, like in all books of this ilk, a collection of sexual and romantic embarrassment stories (he makes an abortive attempt at a threesome; his stabs at Internet dating all end with the women running to the bathroom to vomit), career failures and mishaps and his general life malaise. As with comedians and stories about air travel—complete with accompanying commentary on the little bags of peanuts—this subject matter is pretty standard for your first-person humorous essays collection. And yet—as any trip to a comedy club will teach you—even familiar subject matter can feel fresh and funny with the right delivery.
Hyman’s delivery is mostly on target. While the woe-is-me, no, excuse me, woe-unto-I can get a bit heavy when taken in one sitting—I would strongly recommend against trying to read this book straight through—the tart little commentaries act as a refreshing sorbet when digested in smaller scoops.
And, in between reading heavier fare, this kind of hipster snark can serve as the perfect palate-cleanser.
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH