04 June 2009

Bête de Jour: The intimate adventures of an ugly man

By Stan Cattermole
Harper Collins, June 2009

This is the first book I’ve read that began as a blog. I was already enchanted with the blog when I learned about the book, but, being a book-lover, I wanted to see how the stories would hang together as a book. No worries there.

The book has a blog’s timing and sense of unfolding that makes it irresistible. Immediate. As if we’re along for the ride. And yet I can hold it in my hand, underline passages, dog ear the pages, and let it drop to the floor as I finish reading for the night. I miss that about a blog.

So, Stan Cattermole describes himself as a very ugly child who grew into a very ugly man—“a voluminous bag, fashioned from thick human skin and filled to bursting with the bones of a thousand elbows.” But we can’t tell whether to believe him on this, because people comment on his looks all through the blog/book, and they always describe him as some variation of “not so bad.” But, regardless of the “truth,” Stan believes he’s ugly, and he drags that idea behind him like an old piece of luggage.

Stan reaches rock bottom just before his thirtieth birthday and, as most of us are prone to do when we come awake to find ourselves ready to eat canned cat food rather than go out and face humanity, he decides he must change his life. Thus he begins a quest: to lose weight, to stop smoking, and to “Fall in Fully Reciprocated Love with the Woman of My Dreams.” The blog is born: a way to keep himself accountable, whether anyone else is listening or not.

The blog becomes an actual character in the book. It grows and becomes the Blog. It insinuates itself between Stan and his life-long best friend, and more than one acquaintance is put off by what is written about her. The Blog engenders other blogs, although I find it difficult to believe that any spin-off would be as bright and beautiful as the original. Because of the Blog, Stan’s circle grows wider and he meets people virtually and in the flesh that he begins to know as friends.

Regular readers comment on Stan’s stories, and this gives him courage and validation—two of the things he needs to venture forth and find his lady love. And we’re all pulling for him to do just that, although none of the women he finds seems good enough for him, with his cutting wit and his sensitive heart and his big dick and his hot-air balloon of a spirit.

About Stan’s heart. Stan evidently was born with no outer shell at all; he is like the baby he describes “with its heart on the outside of its skin, clinging to its chest like a silver bell on a kitten’s bib, beating and bleeding and raw for all to see.” For a variety of reasons we learn as we follow Stan’s adventures, he is starved for affection, human touch, reciprocated love, and sex. At the first sign that a relationship is possible, Stan tears open his chest, reveals his own beating, ragged heart, and says, “Here. Take it. It’s yours.”

The writing. Oh, the writing. I enjoy reading Stan Cattermole’s writing as much as I enjoy Mark Twain and Charles Dickens and Kurt Vonnegut. In fact, I have rarely read anything more painfully humorous and delightfully moving. For me, this book is packed full of snivels and dusted with scenes that require tissues and a break. And yet the same book contains wondrous interludes that make me laugh out loud, even on third or fourth reading.

And the mystery. Every book is a mystery, and one of the reasons we read is to find out where it ends up. But in addition to the story question, this book has a mystery author. When I first started reading the blog, I was sure that it was written by a bored author of hundreds of bestsellers who had created this magnificent Cattermole character and was shining us on while he entertained the hell out of us. At night over wine he would smirk a little and read our comments and feel superior because we were all taken in. Now I just don’t care. As long as the story continues.

I must not forget to point out that this book is subtitled “intimate adventures,” and I’m sure it’s not for everyone, because not everyone enjoys reading the intimate sexual details of another person’s quest for love. (Oh, come on now. What’s more fun?) The author offers us even his shabbiest, most embarrassing moments and invites us to study and comment upon them, as if he is determined to tell all of it, just absolutely everything that he can remember to tell, and let us judge him for ourselves.

Well, I haven’t told you the entire story the way a lousy book reviewer does, because it’s Stan’s story to tell and I want you to enjoy it the way he unfolds it. So purchase a copy of the book here in the U.S. or here in the U.K. Follow Stan on Twitter. Visit his Blog. Show him some love.


Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

sounds very interesting! I'm going to try to get a copy through the library. I tend not to buy fiction - I read too much and I don't want to become a subject of one of those HGTV clean-your-house shows LOL. But, we have a good library, and I'm sure I'll be able to get it.

You write one terrific review!

Evil Twin's Wife said...

This is the 2nd reference to this book I have read on a blog in just a few days... and I don't think it was here. But, the book looks very interesting and now I really, really want to read it! Thanks for the review.

Nicola said...

oooh another blog full of intimate encounters and revelations...I adore blogs like this,, people can't even see the curtains twitching!
nic x

SugarCain said...

Tristan, In the past few years I have divested myself of thousands of books. I realized that I was going to have to start building new walls with them if I didn't.

Evil Twin's Wife, Remember the e.e. cummings line "nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands"? There is a scene in the book where @scattermole quotes this to a girl with a very very tiny hand. The ensuing conversation is so perfect that I snort out loud every time I read it. It is truly fine dialogue.

Nicola, I agree. I spent a lot of my childhood in a town of 2,600 people, and the things we knew about each other. (I still look out my windows, I just try not to twitch the curtains.)

Sweet Pea said...

Interest is most certainly peaked!
I must say I'm equally as interested in reading a book penned by you at some point or at least more family stories in your blog to tide me over. You have such a gift with words that you could paint a picture of a fat lady caught in the town square in her granny panties that would make her the envy of all. You've written such an mouth watering review that I can't wait to read the book.

BPP said...

I've no intention of reading Stan's shit. I get enough of that reading the badly-written garbage he inflicts on his readers on his blog. I'm DAMNED if I'm paying for more of the same.

Get a new idea, Stan, you ugly shithouse.

SugarCain said...

BPP, If you read Stan's blog, then you already read his shit. If you think it's badly written garbage, then why are you reading his shit? And why are you reading my shit about Stan's shit? Toddle along.

La Bête said...

Well, what an absolutely charming and I have to say, astonishingly accurate, review.

I'm very pleased you liked it.

As for Mr BPP above, I think he's just off his meds. He follows me around sometimes and spits bile in my eyes, but I'm convinced he doesn't mean it. It's just his way.

Thanks for reviewing!

SugarCain said...

La Bête, The pleasure is mine--the reading, and the reviewing. Now, don't forget that I want that dedication to paste in my copy of the book.

powdergirl said...

Wow Sugar,
What a great book review, I totally want that book now!

SugarCain said...

powdergirl, You'll absolutely love reading it. My favorite books are the ones that are so sad and funny at the same time that it hurts.