Monday, July 18, 2011

On "Bad Boys and Dream Girls" by Tom Anstead ***

With all the news lately of self-published e-books, I thought I'd download a few to read. Anstead's is the first I've gotten around to reading. In part, that was because it was the best looking. The design on the thing appears more professional than many of the other self-published works, even if there are a few oddities and typos. The other thing is that Anstead was completely unknown to me, not someone whose work I'm familiar with from other online publications or by reputation (in other words, this wasn't a book formerly released by a publisher). I was going into this cold, to see just whether something like this might actually be decent or good.

And, on the whole, I found the book engaging. There were places I was tempted to put it down, but as the work moved forward, I actually began to want to complete it, to find out what happened next, which was not exactly what I predicted. Anstead's text is a good, light read.

What made me want to put it down at points? It was the narrator, the main character, a college student whose main interest in life is scoring girls and getting drunk. This is not the kind of guy I like spending even a few minutes with at a bar, let alone nearly 250 pages. (I'm reminded of a couple of drunk guys who I took a shuttle with to the airport a few years ago, how everything seemed so funny to them and how to me they just seemed like idiots. The airport is unfortunately ninety minutes away.) So this is our narrator. There's lots of vomiting in this book, in addition to the drinking. And it's all told with gusto. This guy truly enjoys his loser lifestyle. As for studying, he finds it boring. Classes are a waste of his time. He has no interest in learning anything. Spend a few hours with him, and you'll find . . . well, he's no deeper than what he appears to be. Life is party.

What made me keep at it? Herein is the catch. Anstead has got himself a decent plot, and the novel itself starts off well enough--we don't realize just how sophomoric the narrator is until a few pages in, and by then, the plot has kicked in.

But more than that, Anstead also has created a text that spells out in the form of an example what various dating advice books say about catching members of the opposite sex. And in this way, it was fascinating.

The narrator has women dancing all around him. He's an alpha male, even though he's got nothing up in the head. His best friend is a nerd (I'm not sure why the two of them would be friends--what they'd see in one another--but we'll skip over that), a beta who couldn't get a woman if he were the last man on the planet and the only way the woman could continue to live was by reproducing (I realize that situation is preposterous, but work with me).

Why are the women flocking to this guy who rejoices over a C+ rather than his typical F (and how did he even make it to his second year of college)? Why does no one seem to notice Jack, the guy who has his stuff together? The difference, the novel shows, is confidence. The narrator believes he's hot stuff, and he acts it, and the girls swarm, and the more of them that swarm, the more of a commodity he is. Jack, sans confidence, is not a commodity, even with all his good traits.

Meanwhile, which women are attractive? They're the ones who play hard to get as well. The narrator likes a woman best, it seems, the more she's out of his league, and so does Jack. But the narrator, because he mostly doesn't care about anyone other than himself (I wouldn't say it's exactly an act either), often manages to score these women, while Jack, who pines for the gal of his dreams, seems as if he never will.

Is this how relationships really work? I guess on some level, it's true--especially for the hooking-up crowd. We often want what others want, and we want what we can't have, even when these make no sense intellectually. Anselm does a great job of showing why. The book is available for download here.

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