Carlos Andres Gomez has clearly had some interesting experiences that could have been compiled into an informative and useful narrative and I’m pretty sure that’s what he was trying to do with Man Up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful for me.
Mr. Gomez spends much of the book detailing the ways in which he used to be a jerk, used to be caught up in gender roles, and used to be completely self-centered. It seems he’s trying to tell you where he came from and share the erroneous worldviews he used to hold . . . but he does so as though the reader is supposed to just know he’s no longer a jerk. There are a few brief mentions of small events that helped change his attitude and belief system, but he spends 90% of the book detailing his past transgressions and very little time exploring the reasons he no longer acts or feels the way he once did. He randomly throws out buzzwords like “heteronormative” and makes no attempt to really tie them in with his narrative, nor does he really explain to the reader what they mean. I am quite aware of their meaning, and their importance, but the person who already understands these things shouldn’t be the target audience for this book – unless Mr. Gomez really just wants us all to be incredibly proud of him for not being as much of a jerk as he once was.
He also whines on and on about how his parents divorced when he was young, and he had to move frequently. As a child of divorced parents, I can certainly believe that it sucked for him, but he constantly refers to it like it’s this unusual, unbelievable thing he had to overcome. After the 80th mention or so, it begins to induce some eye-rolling.
There’s lots of detail of his sex life, which also gets old.
“First, I’d ask the woman if she’d been treated for STDs. Then I’d ask her how she felt about abortion. Next, if she was willing to be unattached and keep hooking up. And then I’d tell her I only receive oral sex outside of a relationship. And, finally, after I’d gotten whatever I wanted, I’d discard her. I’d kick her to the curb, after ravenously feasting on her body and heart and spirit. And as she sobbed on my shoulder, or, often times, over the phone, I’d sit there with my partly genuine, mostly strategic empathy and, ultimately, remind her, “I told you this before – I’m not ready for a relationship.”
He goes on to discuss that he came to a point where he had to “grapple with that ugly past and to get honest and break that cycle,” but that’s pretty much the extent of his explanation of having done so. He immediately goes on to give us yet another example of a relationship he screwed up by being a jerk.
There was also very little discussion of consequences. I understand that it’s a personal narrative and I don’t want him to just make up crazy consequences to scare people, but obviously there were negative consequences or he wouldn’t have stopped his bad behavior. Based on what he’s chosen to include in this book, it seems that he goes from being awful to being ‘good’ magically, almost overnight, and for no other reason than he realized it was naughty of him.
For example, he was involved with a woman (who’s now his girlfriend – or at least she was at the time he wrote the book) but was not initially willing to commit to her. Eventually he realizes that she’s ‘the one’ and decides that now would be a good time for them to start a relationship – even though she’s moved on. He writes:
“We met up one night after a mutual friend’s birthday party, and I told her that I wanted to be with her. That I didn’t care if she was with someone else. That I had been wrong to take her for granted. I didn’t care what it took.”
I believe I’m supposed to think that’s awfully sweet of him, but all I see is a guy deciding that now is the right time for him and not caring at all what it means for her. He doesn’t care that she’s in a relationship, and he doesn’t care what has to be done for them to be together . . . which is easy for him to say, considering that it seems all the negative consequences will be hers to bare. How gallant of him!
OK, so you get it, I didn’t care for the substance of the book. But what about the writing? The author is a professional poet, after all. Well, unfortunately that left much to be desired for me as well.
The author didn’t appear to trust his reader, or maybe he didn’t think his reader would (should?) trust him. Either way, he would frequently make a point and then immediately repeat it several times to try and convince us of its validity. Take this example, in which he makes it really, really (really) clear that his sister is a natural athelete:
“My sister is a brilliant artist but she’s actually an incredible athlete as well. She has a natural sense of coordination and physical awareness of her body. She also has power and toughness in her petite frame. Whether it’s throwing a baseball or kicking a soccer ball, she does it hard and with precision. Even with basketball, which was my sport, she’s fantastic. Never having practiced more than a few minutes in her life, she can pick up a ball and start hitting free throws with pretty solid form –no formal training whatsoever.”
He also likes to say, “to this day,” an awful lot.
Overall, I get the impression that this was supposed to be a fearless expose of the worst things he’s ever done, and I imagine some readers will be impressed by his sincere and honest appraisal of who he used to be. However, for me it was mostly just a retelling of all the awful things he’s done and brief descriptions of what behaviors have changed, but an almost total lack of examination into why he’s changed these behaviors.