Driven by a series of demons he’s eager to detail, debut memoirist Itzkoff lays bare the torments of his young, post-collegiate life as an aspiring editor in the testosterone-scented offices of men’s magazine publishers.
With his seething resentment, sexual desperation, and near-crippling insecurity, the author bears more than a passing resemblance to Philip Roth’s Portnoy. This time, however, our narrator’s Jewish mother is basically off the hook; it’s Dad who is the ultimate source of their son’s sufferings. Itzkoff bookends his coming-of-age tale with portraits of his father, a furrier who drowned disappointments in cocaine. When the story opens after Dave’s graduation from Princeton in 1998, Dad has retired to the New Jersey suburbs to drift around the house in his underwear; at its close, he has nearly died of a drug overdose. Meanwhile, his son, determined not to be this kind of man, is bouncing around the Manhattan offices of men’s magazines, first at Details, then Maxim. Working for these publications is less fulfilling that Itzkoff had imagined, however; full of loathing for himself and everyone around him, the author portrays his professional milieu as a waking nightmare of puerile torment and emotional distance. Offering plenty of dirt for those interested in four-year-old magazine gossip, the author isn’t shy about describing the debauchery and flawed human relations that were the rule in his places of employ. In fact, he isn’t shy about describing anything, including his difficulties with relationships, his various bouts of drug use, and the very specific details of an unpleasant session with a prostitute. At every possible moment, Itzkoff shoehorns in self-deprecating Jewish slurs, mentioning his high-school nose job at least twice. Taken as a whole, however, the author’s tale has a not-unappealing nervous energy, and his jumpy, edgy prose will probably keep readers turning the pages.
Surprisingly readable, despite the author’s abundant disgust for himself and others.