HOW NOT TO BE A BOY by Robert Webb


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In this debut work of nonfiction, Webb leaves his performance stage to examine “general expectations of manhood” and tell the stories that have made his life interesting.

This is more than a straightforward memoir, as the author delves into a variety of sociological issues, primarily those related to conceptions of manhood. “Often,” he writes, “when we tell a boy to ‘act like a man,’ we’re effectively saying, ‘Stop expressing those feelings.’ And if the boy hears that often enough, it actually starts to sound uncannily like, ‘Stop feeling those feelings.’ ” Throughout the book, Webb explores the different ways in which masculinity is perceived and enforced in culture, and he attempts to illustrate what happens when masculinity is challenged by a male himself. “The great thing about refusing to feel feelings is that, once you’ve denied them, you don’t have to take responsibility for them,” he writes. “Your feelings will be someone else’s problem—your mother’s problem, your girlfriend’s problem, your wife’s problem.” In trying to understand the consequences of a regimented male experience, Webb falls into consistent heteronormativity. It’s unfortunate that in a work focusing so incisively on understanding the male experience, the spectrum of masculinity is misrepresented. Interspersed through the comedy and memoir are rather myopic explanations of what boys, teenagers, and men are expected to do in society—e.g., not cry, not be a teacher’s pet, play sports, have lots of sex. While intended to be humorous, these categorizations will feel exasperating for many readers. But Webb stays true to his comedic self and provides comic relief amid situations of adolescent torpor: “I’m very proud of the fine sprinkling of pubic hairs I’ve managed to grow, although that area in general looks like the head of a ninety-year-old woman recently returned from a perm too many at the hairdresser’s.”

Intermittently funny but ultimately a frustrating missed opportunity.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-78689-008-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Canongate
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2018


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