You've Got Male

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If chicks have chick lit, what do guys have? There's a clever answer out there — which unfortunately is just the other side of printable in a family magazine — but it is a serious question. So-called chick-lit authors like Helen Fielding and Candace Bushnell are writing smart, incisive, funny-as-hell books about what it's like to be a woman in the current romantic marketplace. Shouldn't a few guys step up and do the same? A few guys besides Nick Hornby, that is?

Let's meet bachelor No. 1: Tom Farrell is the hero of Love Monkey (William Morrow; 336 pages) by Kyle Smith (an editor at TIME's sister publication PEOPLE). At 32, Tom is a hack journalist at a New York City tabloid. When he goes jogging, "it's prose in motion," and his bachelor pad is a "maximum-insecurity facility." Tom ricochets miserably around the pinball machine of Manhattan's bar scene, musing wittily on the state of the modern male and trying to shake an obsession with his dreamy co-worker Julia. You couldn't ask for a more entertaining drinking buddy — watch out for a memorable strip-club meltdown scene — but there's a deep, dark subway of despair that rumbles underneath his riffs, and that's what makes Love Monkey more than a stand-up routine. Hell may have no fury like that of a woman scorned, but neither is there any torment quite like that of an ardent suitor rebuffed — the woe of the unsuccessful wooer — and Love Monkey nails it.

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Jan. 17, 2004

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The tough part about writing boy books, as we may as well call them (hey, chick lit doesn't rhyme either), is that a lot of guys just aren't all that complicated. Such a man is David, the 27-year-old protagonist of Scott Mebus' Booty Nomad (Miramax Books; 392 pages). David is a TV producer struggling to bounce back from a horrific breakup with a woman he can bring himself to refer to only as the Eater of Souls. Like Tom, David gets plastered, visits a strip club, hits on his female friends and longs for an unattainable lady (whom he refers to as "the Goddess"). It's not that he and his friends aren't laddishly funny — their handy rule for movies is "If it's in another language, it has to have kicking in it" — but after a while the wisecracks become relentless, and a reader might suspect they don't cover anything deeper than a desperate need to be liked. One feels not so much entertained by Booty Nomad as hit on.

So what do we learn about men from reading these boy books? Like Bridget Jones, these guys can't stop beating themselves up for being less than perfect. But while Bridget eventually learned that picking Mr. Right isn't as easy as it seems, the guys are convinced they have Ms. Right in their sights all along, and that belief never wavers. One finishes these books with a lurking suspicion that Bridget knows something about romance that these guys don't: sometimes your heart isn't as smart as you think it is.

Of course, Bridget Jones isn't the only flavor of chick lit around. Though it's non-fiction, Harry Stein's The Girl Watchers Club (HarperCollins; 315 pages) takes its cues from Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: it celebrates the folksy wisdom of an older generation of men. The Girl Watchers Club is an informal cabal of men in their 70s and 80s who meet once a week to prowl yard sales and grouse about things "these days." These are men who grew up in the Depression and came of age on the battlefields of World War II. Their long, rich lives have taught them invaluable lessons about unfashionable things like "self-reliance, honest effort, commitment to ideals larger than themselves" — and precious little about women. "It seems to me once you share a bathroom with a woman, things get a lot less romantic," is one old gentleman's contribution. Thus demonstrating something women have known about both boys and men for a long, long time: we're completely, utterly hopeless.