Josh Sundquist’s upcoming memoir, We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, A True Story, should be an easy pick for most fans of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. Like High Fidelity, it’s about a guy who revisits all of his past relationships in order to understand why his love life is such a disaster; as in An Abundance of Katherines, our hero is a bright guy who wishes that people were as understandable as math:
You can throw all the numbers at it that you want, you can draw graphs and make flowcharts until you run out of paper, but in the end, rejection is just pure pain, and fighting emotion with logic is like bringing a calculator to a knife fight. You’re going to get stabbed in the heart, and there’s nothing your precious numbers can do to protect you.
Most fans. I say most, because I am a fan of High Fidelity, and I am a fan of An Abundance of Katherines, but my feelings about We Should Hang Out Sometime are far more mixed. My difficulty with it, though, is of a more philosophical and personal nature than some sort of cut-and-dried issue with the writing. The writing is solid, full stop. But as I can easily imagine other readers having the same reaction that I did, I feel that it merits some amount of discussion.
I found the way that Sundquist talked about the women in his life as…troubling. He was not at all malicious, he didn’t express any opinion that we all haven’t heard a million times, he was being (I assume) honest about his interactions and thought process and logic, and I have no doubt that many, many readers will recognize their own history and their own perspectives in his story. So far, so good.
As far as I could tell, the main things girls were looking for in a potential boyfriend were romance and danger. Romance because they grew up wanting to live in a fairy tale, to have a handsome prince rescue them and all that. Danger because… Well, I’m not sure, but it seemed like girls always went for the bad boys, not the nice ones like me.
Talking about another guy she might like would identify me as friend material. A nice guy. And the only time nice guys finish first is in a race to the Friend Zone.
The title itself, We Should Hang Out Sometime, comes from a problematic passage:
Let me explain why it’s rejection-proof. First of all, it’s a statement, not a question. If you ask a girl a yes-or-no question like Do you want to hang out sometime?, you are opening the door to rejection. But by making a statement instead of posing a question, you are just sharing an opinion. And any well-mannered person knows it’s rude to disagree with someone else’s opinion to his or her face.
Now, granted, that last passage was about his tactics in 11th grade. So, to a degree, I can understand the immaturity and the inability to see the object of his affection as an actual person with an actual personality and actual needs and tastes and interests and opinions. And, you know, as a human being, and not some sort of Prize You Can Win Via Manipulation.
Yes, his tone throughout the book is self-deprecating and humorous and he definitely employs hyperbole to both make his one-liners funnier and to highlight the intensity of his emotions. But. again, but. For me, those passages (and others along those lines) cast a pall over the entire reading experience that even the conclusion—a brief-but-cathartic moment in which he realizes [spoiler!] that all of his relationship troubles stem not from women having an issue with his disability, but from his own unresolved issues about it—didn’t lift.
Which was truly unfortunate, because there were other aspects of the book I loved—mainly, the way he talked about his disability. He talks about having cancer as a kid; about having his leg amputated; about the differences between wearing a full-leg prosthesis versus a below-the-knee prosthesis; about the pros and cons of wearing the prosthesis versus going without; about moments of awkwardness and shame, both for himself and for others; about incidents that, in retrospect, he plays for pure, unadulterated hilarity; about the irritating questions and comments he’s heard over and over again; those parts of his story are so frank, so emotionally honest, and so very easy to identify and empathize with. Those parts, I loved. But sadly, so far, it’s the other stuff that’s sticking with me.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.