Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CBR IV: Live Free or Cannonball Hard, Entry 5: "The Average American Marriage" By Chad Kultgen

Full Disclosure: Once again, I have the wonderful Heidi Metcalfe over at Harper Perennial to thank for allowing me to return to the debaucherous world of Mr. Kultgen's writing.

Also, Spoiler Alert for The Average American Male.

"Love and's an institute you can't disparage.  Dad was told by Mother, you can't have one without the other." 

- Frank Sinatra
Times have changed since Sinatra sang those immortal words.  Hell, times have changed since they were used to ironically proclaim the entrance of The Bundy Family to each and every American household during the run of Married with Children.  Furthermore, it's been a while since The Bundys were the prototypical "American family": Al, the broken and beaten Football start and Peg, the fizzled out, horny shrew of a housewife were the new normal when it came to the depiction of American marriage in the 1990's.  Could it have been because it was so far from the stereotypical image we were fed through traditional media, or was this actually the shift the country was taking?  Either way, it was taken in by the societal consciousness and for a while The Bundys, and even The Simpsons, were the primary depiction of the battle of the sexes; both of which were heavily injected with comedy.  Upon completing The Average American Marriage by Chad Kultgen, these are (at least in this author's opinion) the two most prevalent themes within the text: the current state of marriage, as well as the increasingly commonplace phenomenon of cultural mores and traditions evolving at a faster clip.  A clip so fast that five years (if not less) is all it takes to feel left behind.
Our (still) unnamed protagonist starts the latest chapter in his life just as he had in the previous installment: enduring "The same old bullshit", only this time it's with his wife, Alyna (whom we all remember as the woman who sunk her claws into our narrator by the final frames of Average American Male) and kids.  Five years on they have two kids, a house, and a close to sexless marriage.  The Narrator still finds time to masturbate, play video games, and stare at any woman that catches his visual fancy; suggesting he hasn't changed much since the last time we saw him.  And yet, as the book goes on, and we see him unavoidably exposed to temptation, we learn that he has more of an instilled sense of morality.  It's not a perfect moral code, but fatherhood has him preoccupied with thoughts of his children and his parenting technique and this clashes against his urges to fulfill his sexual needs outside of their marriage.  (That, and we initially learn that his policy on cheating is firmer than we last remembered.)

Though the more things change, the more they stay the same.  This is evident as we explore the plot line of our main character and his new intern, Holly.  A 21 year old firecracker with a tight body and a youthful vigor that's not completely lost on our protagonist, she provides a roadblock on the journey of our character's trek into Middle Age.  We also learn that Holly is very much a product of her time.  She's a Facebook addict, she's with the latest music, and she does things in bed that only a generation growing up with the Internet supplanting parental advice/friendly gossip would count as a technical baseline.  In this story, Kultgen still titillates, but also seizes the opportunity explore something he toyed with in his last book, "Men, Women, and Children": the correlation of technological advance and information aggregation to sexuality, specifically in the areas of technique and desire.  If Holly were a 21 year old then The Narrator was 21, she wouldn't be as forward as his generation was more familiar with Analog solutions.  It's her Digital approach to sex, as well as the refreshing change of scenery from his increasingly distasteful wife, that tempts our Narrator to swim in that moral grey area that Kultgen has found his sweet spot.

In the end, The Average American Marriage signals another step in the literary evolution of Chad Kultgen.  I wished for, and got, his first follow up; and it was everything a sequel should be.  It advances the story, builds upon the foundations of our characters, and ultimately pushes things along to a point where there's enough different to claim a gain of knowledge, but enough remaining characteristics to connect the two works.  Now that Mr. Kultgen has now broken his duck with sequels, perhaps he'll decide in the future that he'll return to the world of his previous, equally sequel friendly, book: Men, Women, and Children. Or maybe we'll receive one final volume in the Average American Series, so as to explore the Narrator's growing children and the realization of fears presented in this text. Fortunately, until the next time we meet with the author and his next creation, we have another socially incendiary work to add to his literary bedpost.  Fellas, this isn't just the book your girlfriend won't want you to read; it's also the book you must read for the good of your relationship.  Ladies, this book is as intellectually interesting as it is scandalous, so you're not left out here.  Ultimately, Kultgen's intelligence and penchant for well constructed debauchery that make this a book well worth reading.
Next Time: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (I SWEAR!)