You don’t get it when there’s nothing to get

I was 21 when I first read Nude Men, and it became an instant favorite. I was curious and mildly apprehensive about revisiting it. For one thing, I’ve never liked a single thing Amanda Filipacchi has written since then, and I’ve read it all, based solely on the strength of Nude Men. And for another, I was 21 a really really long time ago.*

So, does it hold up? Eh, kind of. There is a recurring theme about optical illusions, which is fitting, because this book straddles a whole lot of lines. Somehow it manages to be clever, juvenile, hilarious, dumb, interesting, and tedious all at once.

young lady old lady
I feel like I’ve said this before…

I’m kind of surprised that I liked it so much back then, because it has a style that I see a lot these days which I really don’t like. This kind of weird, absurdist detachment that’s not so much magical realism as “stuff that makes no sense.” Think Alexandra Kleeman, Marcy Dermansky, Aimee Bender…perfectly fine writers who are just not my cup of tea. And I’ve felt this way about everything she’s written since. Not sure why this one struck such a chord with 21 year old me.

Nude Men is about 29 year old Jeremy Acidophilus (legit hilarious name) who becomes infatuated with an artist and then has an affair with her 11 year old daughter. So you’d think that would be a bit shocking and disturbing, yes? Actually no, not really. The way it plays out is so implausible and nonsensical that it’s impossible to take it seriously, impossible to care. Then things take a Very Dramatic Turn, but again, the writing is so detached, the story so far fetched, you end up having no emotional investment. There’s a climactic event accompanied by some observant commentary, then the last ~60 pages feel silly and aimless until a kind of cool, cinematic ending.

Some of this does work. There’s a side plot about a talentless dancing magician who gets inexplicably popular which is very funny and on point. A wry commentary on celebrity, it’s basically the hipster version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. There’s also a funny little recurring bit where Jeremy’s mother orchestrates seemingly chance encounters with strangers who chastise him for his actions. Some of the narration and dialogue is laugh out loud funny. It gets meta in a good way at the climax. But overall, this quote from the book sums it up for me: “I get it: There’s nothing to get.”


*23 years, if you must know