I gave this book two stars instead of one, because for me to give a book only one star, it must have no redeeming features whatsoever. Some of the infI gave this book two stars instead of one, because for me to give a book only one star, it must have no redeeming features whatsoever. Some of the information in this book was interesting. However, over all it was a colossal disappointment.
The first chapter opens with a description of the "composure class," who are essentially perfect human beings--world travelers, lunching with movie stars, handsome, athletic, melodic voices, wonderful children, rich but self made. The first page of the first chapter, and already my belief is being strained.
Brooks centers his book around two fictional people, Harold and Erica, delving briefly into the people around them. Rather than risk using real people, or composites of real people, Brooks has taken a very safe bet. Whatever assertions he makes, his fictional characters always prove him right.
Brooks's gender essentialism hits the reader right from the get go, with plenty of "Mars and Venus" BS. Like so many gender essentialists, Brook's doesn't seem to have much respect for men--portraying his character Rob as an inconsiderate boor who needs to be civilized by his wife, and fakes incompetence at domestic tasks--but he has a special scorn for women. He describes his character Julia as such:
"It is sad to report that even in her late twenties, Julia kept her Spring Break personality alive and on call. Responsible and ambitious by day, she would let her inner Cosmo girl out for a romp on Saturday nights. In these moods, she still thought it was cool to be sassy. She still thought it was a sign of social bravery to be crude-talking, hard-partying, cotton candy lipstick-wearing, thong-snapping, balls-to-the-wall disciple in the church of Lady Gaga. She still thought she was taking control of her sexuality by showing cleavage. She thought the barbed wire tat around her thigh was a sign of body confidence... she would walk perilously close to the line of skandom without ever quite going over."
What rescues Julia from cleavage-and-tattoo-bearing skankdom? Having a baby of course!
Later, Brooks's writing will ooze with contempt for high school English teacher Ms. Taylor. "...if she wasn't having an engrossing emotional drama on any given day, she would try to make one up." "She was something a prodigy when it came to being overwrought." "She could have grown into a normal person if she hadn't been subjected to the high-school English curriculum." Ms. Taylor is at least acknowledged as an excellent teacher, and she's allowed to redeem herself by being of value to the male main character (naturally).
Erica, the female lead, is generally well regarded by the text, but she described as a bitch in high school, whereas Harold is regarded as a golden boy throughout childhood and adolescence.
Harold is miraculous and wonderful in the first few chapters, popular, imaginative, inspired, and charismatic. Any childhood problems are the result of his parents not understanding him. He was perfect, and I loathed him. Later, Harold will fall from perfect to pathetic, until finally redeeming himself by holding the exact same political opinions as Brooks. Perhaps the most agonizing moment of Harold's political epiphany is in the middle of his poor, unappreciated genius in his own time whining, when he notes that one particular New York Times columnist agrees with him. Yes, Brooks, very clever.
Erica is a better crafted character, at least in the beginning, though she's still a caricature, a Horatio Alger poor girl made good. As the books goes on though, she becomes less and less relateable and sympathetic.
Some parts of the book are just creepy and weird, such as Harold's infancy. Harold is described as possessing a "seductive sense of timing" in regards to his mother. I'd write it as off as mildly awkward word choice, except a few pages later he's looking at her "like some fraternity scuzzball who'd put a hidden camera in her shower." Yes, Brooks seems determined to describe an infant as sexually predatory towards his mother. Baby Harold is also said to "stare at edges the way Charles Manson stared at cops." It's as if Brooks thought he was writing a sequel to Rosemary's Baby. I can feel my reproductive organs shriveling up.
Nor does the book succeed as a social psychology or neurology work. It's shallow, and there's nothing insightful or regulatory. There are some interesting ideas, but they're poorly developed.
Really, this books fails on every conceivable level....more