Picks and Pans Review: One of the Guys

UPDATED 08/08/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/08/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Harry Stein

The subtitle of this confessional memoir is "The Wising Up of an American Man," and it is impossible not to wonder what took Harry Stein so long to grow and wise up. Maybe the problem is that only men should read this book. They might feel more sympathetic toward Stein's coming-of-age saga, the chronicling of his first sexual experiences, his attempts at male bonding, his efforts to carve out a not-just-sexual relationship with a woman and his struggles to, oh you know, "open up" emotionally. What is particularly galling about One of the Guys is Stein's belief that confessing to unattractive attitudes or behavior makes the attitude or behavior honorable, or at the very least charming, at the very, very least forgivable: "I myself—how's this for a damaging admission?—more than once imagined a woman I was seeing being turned into wet clay so that I would have, say, 10 minutes to make whatever physical alterations I wished before she dried and reassumed human form; so there I pictured myself, busily lending a bit more roundness to the buttocks, transferring a bit of substance from the thighs to the breasts, perhaps smoothing out a bumpy nose." (Anyone who makes such an admission should think twice before letting his photograph appear on the front of the book jacket.) There are also all the supposedly acute, pawky observations like "The world is full of people who, unaware of it as they may be themselves, live their lives in daily rebuke of their parents; children of the excessively achievement-oriented who pointedly underachieve." Stein occasionally redeems himself. His efforts to hammer out a relationship with his father are moving without being self-serving; his account of finally losing his virginity is very funny: " 'Oh, God,' she moaned. I stopped, startled; then relaxed. Of course. THIS I had read about. 'I love you,' I said, nuzzling her cheek. 'Oh, God. There's a huge rock digging into my back.' " Oh, but then Stein starts acting the sensitive man again, talking about fatherhood—in the egregious manner patented by Bob Greene in Good Morning, Merry Sunshine: "It is truly a kind of magic how the feeling just sort of sneaks up, how a sense of obligation toward a child—and the discomfort over not feeling more—suddenly gives way to a love beyond description, something so profound as to approach irrationality." A woman mouthing such palaver would be greeted with derision at best, so let's not be sexist about it. Let's just say "Hogwash!" and be done with it. (Simon and Schuster, $17.95)

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