Weird boyfriends, bad novels, sexually perverse collegiates.
Almond, author of the collection My Life in Heavy Metal (2002) and the nonfiction Candyfreak (2003), has a nice treasure trove of ideas and a smart way with his characters, but he always seems to lose interest just as the going gets good. The title story is a good example. Here, an editor at a women’s magazine starts a relationship with an odd, short little doctor whom she’s powerfully attracted to despite his childlike tendencies and bedroom ineptitude. The affair goes seriously sour when she meets Chow’s ex and uncovers some secrets; but Almond had an interesting start here, slyly inverting the chick-lit setup with the narrator’s caustic and unsentimental running commentary. It’s too bad he truncates it. Sex is a constant theme, especially in the funny, lascivious teacher-gone-errant “Appropriate Sex” (“This was a Friday in April, one of the last days of the term, and the undergrads were all worked up”). What happens (neurotically slutty student comes on hard to her writing professor, who ends up just sharing a joint with one of the dimmer bulbs in the class) is less important than Almond’s sarcastic limning of the none-too-impressive undergrads the teacher is forced to endure. The masterpiece is “Larsen’s Novel,” about a man with an impossibly pushy best friend, Larsen, who agrees to read that friend’s novel, a 600-page pile of execrable cliché, soon regretting his decision (another reader: “Surely [it was] a labor of love . . . So, too, was the Third Reich”). Almond strains for source material at times—see the lazy bull session that makes up “The Idea of Michael Jackson’s Dick”—and may not include much of great consequence, but the effortless humor throughout compensates for a lot.
A distractingly entertaining second collection, nimbly executed.