Book Review: You Know Who You Are

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Arts & Film, Books, NY Press Exclusive.

Ben Dolnick takes on a lot of themes in his second novel, You Know Who You Are, from the effects of losing a matriarch on a family to the ambivalent bond between brothers. But while he succeeds at some level with all of them, the greatest accomplishment of this book is Dolnick’s skillful recreation of guilty thrill of newly discovered sex.Dolnick’s hero, Jacob, and his best friend Owen spend hours after school every day writing dirty stories, filled with every obscenity and position they can think of. Their opus, “Orgasms in the Mist,” exerts both a powerful attraction for Jacob and Owen, and an equally powerful repulsion. Jacob feels disgusted with himself until his hormones flare, and all he can think about is returning to Owen’s room to add another section and reread their previous work.

Eventually, Jacob outgrows just writing about sex, and You Know Who You Are threatens to dissolve in a flurry of after-school-special melodrama. Granted the distracted parenting that comes with losing one’s mother, Jacob’s girlfriend Emily ends up pregnant after a condom breaks. But Dolnick has too much to say about becoming an adult to allow Jacob to become a martyr to parenthood, so Emily does what thousands of teenage girls do every week and has an abortion.

That episode somewhat mars what is otherwise a funny-sad look at growing up, something that doesn’t end with college for Jacob. Spun out into his own orbit by the death of his mother, it isn’t until a college girlfriend presses him that he reaches out to the rest of his family, all of whom coped with the loss of their mother in their own ways. The college sections, filled with awkward encounters and desperate attempts at forcing love, are the best-written of the novel, nailing the self-conscious reinventions that everyone dabbles with away from the watchful eyes of people who know our pasts. For Jacob, becoming an adult is more than dealing with unwanted pregnancies or dealing with the death of a parent. It’s about being big enough to forgive sins both big and small, and understanding the importance of family. The gentle irony of the title (Jacob is never entirely sure of who he is, even when he’s acting the most self-assured) and Jacob’s slow and painful emotional growth makes a claim for Dolnick as a writer to watch.

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Book Review

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Books, Posts.

Author: Henry Sutton

Publisher: Serpents Tail

In South London, all the members of an extended family have one thing in common: a sick obsession with looks—their own and those of others as they go about their daily lives in a sweltering summer that seems a little too close to home. Every character Sutton summons is somewhat dysfunctional. For instance, when Zara, a woman in her early twenties, gets a job as a tour guide at a resort on the Med, her only thoughts are about comparing the size of her Spanish boyfriend’s cock to that of his best friend’s when they go swimming nude. She also worries about her Viagra-popping father who’ll be celebrating his 70th birthday at her workplace with guests including: her married sister Sally (who finds satisfaction with a garden hose while her husband spends his lunch hours at a strip club), her half-sisters and her father’s mistress. But perhaps Zara is one-upped by her former brother-in-law, Brian—an overweight, sex-starved man—who only thinks about what other people are wearing under their everyday clothes. 

Thong Nation is not, as the sleazy cover might suggest, a porn novel. It is a sad tale of two generations of Brits who are overexposed to sex without getting much action themselves. With the days by the pool or the beach numbered, it’s the perfect book for a late summer read. A way to trade in the tawdry tales spun in America’s vapid pop culture for the same thing across the Atlantic.