There are plenty of fine, virile men in American literature today. Elaine Blair doesn’t think so: in a New York Review of Books article, she easily recognizes Michel Houellebecq’s sucky protagonists because she says contemporary American lit is filled with men who are losers, from Philip Roth’s Alex Portnoy to Sam Lipsyte’s Milo Burke. So where are all the big, strong, literary men?
John Galt from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
For an unhealthy dose of American exceptionalism, there’s nobody better to read about than John Galt, the ultimate anti-loser and the Atlas who decides to just shrug off the world:
"There is only one kind of men who have never been on strike in the whole of human history...the men who have carried the world on their shoulders, have kept it alive, have endured torture as sole payment, but have never walked out on the human race. Well, their turn has come. Let the world discover who they are, what they do and what happens when they refuse to function. This is the strike of the men of the mind.”
The Judge from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
One of Cormac McCarthy’s most hair-raising creations, the judge stalks the long flat terrain of America and preaches a violent form of justice, without regard to femininity of any sort.
“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”
Patrick Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.
From his rapturous descriptions of music albums and finely tailored suits to his soulless ravages of New York’s restaurants and women, Patrick Bateman might be stretching the envelope for being "human," but nobody would dare call him a loser.
“I felt lethal, on the verge of frenzy. My nightly bloodlust overflowed into my days and I had to leave the city. My mask of sanity was a victim of impending slippage. This was the bone season for me and I needed a vacation.”
Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.
The two men at the center of the novel and the movie have no interest whatsoever in slacking off, and the result is Tylder Durden's speech, easily one of the most bizarre and fascinating manifestos of masculinity in recent times.
“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering...our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we've been all raised by television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won't and we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”
Mike Schwartz from Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.
Baseball novels are full of beefy sluggers, but this one has grandiloquence to match his skills at coaching:
“Me, I hearken back to a simpler time.” Schwartz patted his thick, sturdy midriff. “A time when a hairy back meant something...Warmth. Survival. Evolutionary advantage. Back then, a man’s wife and children would burrow into his back hair and wait out the winter. Nypmhs would braid it and praise it in song. God’s wrath waxed hot against the hairless tribes. Now that’s all forgotten. But I’ll tell you one thing: when the next ice age comes, the Schwartzes will be sitting pretty. Real pretty.”
Gender typecasting be damned! There are plenty of strong men—and women, too!—in the contemporary American novel out there. The French can keep Michel Houellebecq to themselves; we’ve got Pynchon and Palahniuk and Wells Tower leading the way for our All-American macho men.
image credit: guardian.co.uk