A frank exploration of men’s sexuality in the context of a memoir.
The central theme of this sharp debut is Thomas’ notion of “crotch thinking,” a form of toxic masculinity he defines as “sexually driven actions that cripple private lives in ways subtle enough to escape detection and display.” In the first two chapters, Thomas effectively connects personal coming-of-age tales with repressed societal mores of the post–WWII era, a valuable historical reminder, especially for readers of subsequent generations. Retrospectively, by the end of the book, he is able to see how his decisions and behaviors affected loved ones, including three wives and three children. He asserts that much of the domestic conflict throughout his life stemmed from a failure to understand his own motivations, his partners’ needs, and his children’s coping mechanisms. The title of the book thus moves beyond the obvious phallic reference and expands to include a construction metaphor, that is, the building of a satisfying career, personal life, and physical home, complete with false starts, unexpected complications, unforeseen costs, and modified plans. In addition to a primary focus on personal and family relations, the book addresses a wide array of other topics, including the pressures and temptations of academia, the exhilaration and trappings of social mobility, and the tragedy of substance abuse, just to name a few. Thomas writes clearly and precisely, no surprise given his career as a professor of communication. His choice to employ the present tense lends a sense of immediacy to the action despite the past-gazing framework of the memoir genre. He closes with a poem in free verse written for his third wife, a synthesis of everything that has come before regarding the challenges and rewards of romantic partnerships. Furthermore, by means of a thoughtful introduction and epilogue, the author situates his story amid current debates about appropriate male behavior via the #MeToo Movement and a whole myriad of contentious cultural issues surrounding sex.
More nuanced and broader in scope than its provocative title suggests.