Citadel Kensington, 2006, 277 pages, C$17.95 tp, ISBN 0-8065-2728-5
Ah, Tucker Max. The champion of frat-boys all over America. The shock-jock of drink-and-tell Internet writing. The best-known thirty-something teenager. The perfect antithesis of, well, me.
Boiled down to its components, the quintessential Tucker Max story goes like this: Alcohol goes in Tucker; fluids come out. I Hope they Serve Beer in Hell (now a movie!) is 256 pages of essays detailing variations on that theme. Tucker drinks a lot; later, he vomits, excretes or ejaculates. Sometimes, he has friends along with him. Rude put-downs against whoever isn’t with him are often involved. Repeat.
Tucker Max became a niche celebrity, as many people now do, by writing a series of essays on his web site. He eventually grew into kind of a national phenomenon for a very specific demographic group. Indeed, for college-age frat-boys, Tucker Max is living the life: binge-drinking, bad behaviour, casual sex and earning a living by being celebrated for, well, binge-drinking, bad behaviour and casual sex.
So it is that we read about wild parties, outrageous semi-public sex in Vegas, the effects of Absinthe, various wild sex episodes, uncontrollable incontinence, Tucker Max’s scales for drunkenness and female attractiveness (they’re predictably related), and various other antics. Most stories have a happy ending in the massage-parlour sense of happy endings. Many will feel sullied for laughing along.
There’s a little bit more to it in that Tucker Max is a decent writer when it comes to writing about the party lifestyle. No matter whether the tales are invented or enhanced, the anecdotes are told crisply, with a good ear for dialogue and a mounting sense of outrageousness. He acknowledges his own humiliations (the funniest story in the book is all about potty humour at his own expense), writes compulsively readable prose and surrounds himself with vivid characters.
But no one will comment or review I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell for the quality of its prose. Why do so when the book becomes a lightning rod for discussions of misogyny, college hedonism, man-children, limited intellects and carnal fixations? Anyone making the mistake of thinking that Max’s book accurately reflects the mainstream American college experience will come away from the book despairing for the future of the republic, if not the human race in general.
My own experience being so unlike Tucker Max’s life (you have probably figured this out on your own, but otherwise here’s the shocking revelation: I’m a nerd), I ended up reading I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell as an anthropological text, spying upon the cruel and merciless life of the americani fratpueris and thanking my own social ineptness that I’ve never been tempted by Max’s specialities. As a humour book, it’s not a bad read. As indicative of social trends, though: gaaah.
Unsympathetic as I can be about the frat-boy lifestyle, there’s not a lot I can admire in Tucker Max’s life… except for a somewhat disarming frankness about his own failings. He knows that he’s not a nice guy: the title of the book explains his posthumous expectations. It’s also noteworthy that in the vast majority of cases, the women he sleeps with have a good idea of what they can expect: Max’s stories are not about lying and false pretences, but the consequences of very deliberate lifestyle choices. (The question of whether Max is misogynist presumes that Max-the-literary-construct actually cares about women independently of his own primitive impulses –something still left open to discussion.) Many will mistake this subtle distinction and see Max’s example as a license to behave badly, ignoring the warnings that lies at the heart of nearly every Max story: the sunburns, the headaches, the legal consequences, the ways in which casual sex can backfire in ways people are rarely ready to deal with. The book ends on a hair-raising story that’s worth a PSA by itself.
In some ways, my vicarious glimpse at the life of Tucker Max is quite enough for me: whereas others see glitz and hilarity, I see situations in which I never want to see myself. If nothing else, Tucker Max has lived this lifestyle so exuberantly that there is no need for anyone else to try to outdo him.
(This is one of the few reviews where I think it’s necessary to point out that I bought my copy of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell at a very-used-book sale. The laughable amount of money spent in purchasing this book went directly to the Ottawa Public Library’s acquisition fund. No Tucker Maxes were enriched in the making of this review.)