Sunday, April 10, 2011

You Can Make Him Like You: a not-at-all-biased review

I’m just going to say this right away and get it over with: Ben and I are friends.  So you knew this review was going to be just an enormous pile of me gushing and talking about how clever a writer he is and how great and naturalistic his dialogue is and how I can never get enough of the references to 80’s and indie culture, and how fearless he is with confronting uncomfortable topics head-on, or how this is the best thing I think he’s done so far, or maybe even how truly excellent a human being he is, and how much I, a person with my own relatively well-developed sense of it, envy the confidence he radiates at all times both in person and particularly in his written work.  And you’d be right, as far as that went.  And so in order to try and do something unexpected, I’m not going to talk about any of that here and instead I’ll let you experience it for yourself with You Can Make Him Like You, because you’re going to buy this book.  How do I know this?  Because statistically speaking half of you are men, and of those half, a good chunk of you are, or are planning to be, fathers.  And here is what’s important to know:

You Can Make Him Like You is the very best book about fatherhood I’ve ever come across.  I don’t comb the shelves for books about fatherhood, granted, but I’ve read a few, most of which are all hat and no cattle.  Which is to say they bullshit you endlessly, and perpetuate the sort of ignorance that makes becoming a father one of those things that still, even in 2011, can be at times a hemming-hawing nightmare of anxiety, wildly inaccurate expectations, and chilly isolation.  My favorite up to this point was Robert Bly’s Iron John, which I recommend to all of my friends who are parents of boys, particularly the dads.  You Can Make Him Like You, is not solely about fatherhood but rather more accurately about the process of becoming a father, and the craziness that inevitably ensues around you during this time.  Our time, as it happens, because this is a contemporary story and showcases its own difficulties and specifics unique to us, but with enough circumspection to give it just the right tint of timelessness.

The best way to describe the book, without ruining it for you, is to say it’s like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret or Then Again, Maybe I Won’t for new dads.  Or one of those other Judy Blume books that you discovered right about the time you started to get acne and notice members of the opposite sex, and books like that made you think holy shit, someone else did go through this before, and they lived to tell about it, and not only are they telling about it, they’re telling the TRUTH about it, which is even more crucial.  I kept thinking as I was reading it: this should be required reading for new dads, no, expectant dads… no, all men

I was reminded as I saw someone else post an excellent review of it, of a night about a year ago when I went to the release party for Slut Lullabies and Stations West by Gina Frangello and Allison Amend, and Allison took the mic and guaranteed the audience that they would like Slut Lullabies.  I’m paraphrasing, but her words were “I’m so confident you’ll like this that if you don’t like it I will buy your copy back from you.”  That is how I feel about You Can Make Him Like You.  You will buy this book, because it’s awesome, not because you need me to tell you to, but you will not want to toss it when you’re done with it.  In fact, I’m already thinking of half a dozen men, one or two of whom are expecting their first children, who I want to give this book to, but they’re not getting mine.

Also, as a final and partly unrelated footnote, it isn’t necessary to know about the Hold Steady or their songs “You Can Make Him Like You” and “Stay Positive”, but I’ll be damned if you won’t want to download them after reading this book.  Which makes me think that the Hold Steady maybe needs to show him some love and come to Chicago and play at a reading.  Maybe.  I’m just saying.

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