My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Tucker Max: the Homeric Hero.
I’m not too high-falutin’ to admit it: I’ve been known to pick up an enjoy a Tucker Max book from time to time, and last night I finished his latest, Assholes Finish First. The short review: love him or hate him, the man knows how to tell a story, and he’s got a knack for a turn of phrase (one of my favs from the book: he has sex with a thin woman and says it was “like falling into a pile of brooms”), and, as with any bar room flirt, there seems refreshing solidity to his personality. He’s almost pure charm and I’ve got the best possible feeling one can have after a one night stand: I don’t really regret staying up late to read the book, and while I don’t mind it, a few hours of reflection have let me conclude that he’s getting away with something.
I’d read I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and was a bit on the fence about it: he struck me as a guy who could tell decent stories about his very efficient way to find women who will sleep with him: get very drunk, lose inhibitions/sense of propriety while maintaining some level of wit and–I guess–charm (not to mention the ability to speak coherently), and at least one woman will find you funny enough to take home, no matter how offensive you are. In IHTSBIH that meant a ALOT of stories about mercilessly teasing people in random parties. AFF was a bit easier on the way down, largely because, the title notwithstanding, he doesn’t have to be an asshole to differentiate the women who will sleep with him from the women who won’t–the former seek him out. He does manage to sound like he’s able to respect and care about at least a few women, including someone who sleeps with him to research an article for a college newspaper and prints the story under her own name.
He still often sounds misogynistic and is remarkably drunk for the better part of most of the book. As for the former, I’d bet that “whore” is one of the most commonly used words in his book, and as for the latter, one of the longest sections in the book tells the story of him getting rip-roaring drunk while driving an RV in Harlem, narrowly avoiding death at the hands of a throng of locals, getting arrested and somehow avoiding jail time. He includes a disclaimer about drunk driving, but it’s not exactly convincing.
Max tries to have it both ways elsewhere. He says that his stories started out as emails and were just meant to entertain, and while that may be true, it doesn’t take long for his narcissism to border on the desire for others to pay attention to him as well. Take this quote from page 3, as he tells the story of hassling liberal arts grad students because they’ve chosen a path that won’t make them as rich as the law students’ will.
“WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!! CREDIT, I AM THE GREATEST MAN ALIVE!! HATE, I’M FUCKING INVINCIBLE” [Credit and Hate are two of his friends].
Here and elsewhere, Max thinks most people don’t have any substance, and that, if nothing else, he is honest and, in a sense, real. He admits that most of his stories come from picking on these empty, weak people, which is either a sort of tough-love attempt to make them relax and do what they honestly want to do or just him choosing mild mannered people to harass and so aggrandize himself.
But this puts Max in a quandary. He acts as though he were somehow special and exempt from the rules that bind most of us, and by the way he tells it, it does seem that the fates smile on him. He’s a one-in-a-million kind of guy, he embodies a certain philosophy and worldview, and he’s able to do the things he does from a mix of luck and charm. In other words, a kind of hero.
But heroes also inspire the people who follow them. It is perfectly natural for people to look up to and emulate them, and that puts Max, the avowed independent spirit, in a tight spot. What happens when people without the imagination or will or the ability to live for themselves idolize someone who values imagination and will and the ability to live for himself?
In short, he was unnerved. So much so that he looks for an out, and punks out in the process:
“These stories should not make people worship me; they should make people laugh–with me, and sometimes, at me… and [nothing I’ve done] makes me a god–it just makes me a pretty normal guy.”
Elsewhere he says he really just wants people to “celebrate life, drink for the enjoyment of it, and experience the happiness that comes from being around people you like” (nevermind that he spends so much time around women he professes to detest).
This is pretty weak sauce in the context, and I was pretty disappointed. He prides himself on a certain sort of integrity and honesty, and then crumbles on the weakest inspection. When he’s drunk he spends a good deal of time proclaiming his own greatness, and when he’s sober he writes up stories about his adventures–and if he’s just a normal guy, why are we bothering to read his stories? He is trying to weasel his way out, and I don’t like it.
It is unbelievably naive of him to be so astounded that people would want to follow his lead. He reduces it all to a lust for life so as to wash his hands of the matter. That way he won’t have to feel guilty about selling books. But for all his carefree posturing, the fact that he bothers to address the issue indicates that it bothers him.
But that’s not a bad thing. I gave him credit for being smart, and I’ll go a step further and say that he seems to be taking that crucial, if miniscule step toward maturity. He’s a bit more upfront about his family issues, and, while he still goes around calling many woman whores or sluts, but he refuses to trash talk an ex whom he did truly seem to care for.
Max is publishing two more volumes of his stories, and at that point I think his material will be exhausted. He’s gotten to be a better writer and, seemingly, a bit wiser. He’s had a good run as a racconteur of the prurient, and I am curious to see if he’ll have anything left to say once his sex stories get old and boring. He claims that there are “deeper meanings behind the laughs;” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what those are.