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Tell Me It's Real - T.J. Klune This is the second book I've read by T.J. Klune and while I liked Bear, Otter and the Kid, it was too rambly and angsty for me to be very interested in the follow up. But this one was supposed to be more of a lighthearted comedy, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Klune writes in one of his blog posts :

“I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to write a story about love at first sight, but to make it as realistic as possible. Once I gave in to the idea that it could happen, I wanted to see if I could write it and have it be believable. After writing ITRID [Into This River I Drown], I wanted it to be lighter, funnier, sweeter (though with a bite to it). It needed to be snarky, and sarcastic, and outrageous and ridiculous (in a good way).” 

I thought that sounded promising.

The second part of this book was indeed a lighthearted romcom with even some poignant moments. Both Vince and Sandy's grief are well done, touching without going into melodrama. Once Paul and Vince start interacting for real, the story starts to flow nicely. The book was light on the tropes, which was refreshing. Paul and Vince were not totally standard characters, which was also nice. And yet this ended up with an abysmal star rating from me, because to get to this part of the book I had to struggle through the first 30%, which was completely off-putting. Too many times the sweetly funny parts were derailed by slapstick, even in the second part. Like the scene where Sandy helps Paul dress for his first date with Vince. That started really good: funny while still making you feel for Paul and his insecurities. And then it tanks when Paul steps on the dog, crashes into a wall and starts a long diatribe about selling the dog to a Taiwanese restaurant. Over the top and bye bye mood.

Paul Auster has only one friend, Sandy. Paul tries to convince us that this is because he is shy and insecure, but as the first chapters go by it becomes clear that this is because Paul is rude and very judgmental. Making fun of other people creates an easy us-vs-them kind of humor here, but with all the people Paul is adding to the 'them' list, it is not surprising there are so few people left in 'us'. In the first few chapters Paul makes it clear he has issues with his doctor, his randy old nudist neighbors, ladies with spray tans, cats, chihuahuas, vaginas, the bitches who don't want to keep reading his self centered ramblings, lesbians, vegetarians, tree hugging hippies, office sluts, fratty jockish dudes, twinks, large breasts, and people named Tad or Santiago. To name a select few. At some point Vince tells Paul's mom how kind Paul is. And all I am thinking is: “He is? To whom?”

Vince, the love interest, is an uneven character. He is supposed to be a dumb guy with a heart of gold, but his lack of intelligence seems to be limited to not knowing the meaning of certain words. He doesn't always understand what Paul is saying, but then again, Paul is reduced to inane spluttering most of the time when he talks to Vince, so that's not so strange. The rest of the time he is perfectly normal. Vince is dumb, because we're told he is dumb, and that is pretty much all there is to it.

In the first chapter Paul talks directly to the reader. Not subtle, with an occasional aside to the reader, no, he tears the 4th wall down and dances on the rubble. He is talking to you. He is going to tell you all about himself: what he looks like, what he wishes he looked liked, where he works, how he got his dog, how shy and insecure he is, all these people he doesn't like and on and on in one big rambling mess. And when I say rambling mess, I mean it just keeps on going with irrelevant stuff and has dog shit and vomit and regurgitated spinach and tons of other unnecessary hilarity of the Chevy Chase kind that obscure the real humor that can be found in this book if you bother to look. I've read awkward introductions before (Oh, look, there is me in the mirror, look at my brown hair and blue eyes, blah blah), but this a particularly lazy and clunky introduction to a character.

Paul breaks the 4th wall to get the reader on his side. This is 'us' vs 'them' after all and we're supposed to be on Paul's side. Just like toddlers yell the Spanish word for 'jump' at the tv when Dora the Explorer tells them to, so are we supposed to yell 'bitches' at those losers who do not like this book when Paul tells us to. Because we are Team Paul. But, personally, I don't want to be on Team Judgy McJudgerson. I am not an aging, overweight, large breasted vegetarian hippie butch lesbian or anything, but that doesn't mean I want to point my finger at them and laugh.

What makes me really, really want to get the hell off Team Paul, though, is how every time he does something reprehensible, he dubs that 'being a vagina'. As in '….[but he] was now waking up in Bear Dude's bed, all because I was a gigantic vagina'. And '[the idea of carpet munching] kinda grossed me out because vaginas have more folds than a pile of laundry. Blargh.' Add similar references to labia, ovulating, uteri, menstruating ghosts and tampon strings and I seem to have misplaced my sense of humor somewhere. I completely understand that gay guys have no use for vaginas and probably find them kind of gross. And if Klune says that it is a common derogatory term in the gay world, I'll even buy that. Just because none of my gay friends are suicidal enough to say such things around me doesn't mean they don't talk shit when there are no women around. Just like straight guys, really. However, I am sure Klune is aware that roughly 80% of his readers are women. I can't be the only one not finding this funny.

Let's say you're a gay guy and you're reading a book about straight guys, written by a straight guy. You know, like the majority of the books out there. Say the straight main character does something stupid and then thinks to himself: “I can't believe I missed that field goal, I am such a worthless filthy faggot!” Potentially funny the first time, maybe. The 10th time he says something similar? Really not so much. Does it matter at that point that it's the character saying that and not the author? In this case, when the character doesn't repent his homophobia/misogyny at the end, or isn't even aware of it, and the character himself is a bit of an author-insert (gay Arizona insurance employee and (maybe would be) romance novelist), I'm going to go with 'no, it doesn't matter who says it'. Besides the misogyny, every person of color in this book is a stereotype: Sassy Black Nurse is sassy, Sexually Aggressive Latino Waiter is sexually aggressive and Jennifer Lopez insists on talking about her vagina.

Yes, Jennifer Lopez is a bike shop assistant here. Paul Auster, outside of this book, is of course a fairly well known novelist, Vince Taylor was a British rock star and is a professional body builder, Helena Handbasket is Chandler Bing's dad on 'Friends' (as played by Kathleen Turner) and even the Sassy Black Nurse makes an appearance on 'Family Guy'. Pop culture trivia, anyone?

On the other hand, the editing was really wonderful! No typos, homonyms, repeated phrases, etc. Really excellent job. Hahaha. Gotcha. Not really. The editing was bad. Besides all fore-mentioned issues, Sandy comes out to his parents a year after they die and Paul apparently keeps corduroy pants from when he is 10 years old. If you think it's funny what I just did there with the gotcha, you might actually like the last chapter. If not, you'll probably groan and roll your eyes, like me.

To recap: If Paul was less judgmental and more likable and had quit yammering; if the misogyny, the racial stereotypes, all the slapstick and almost every single scene that features the dog had been taken out, this would have been a funny lighthearted romantic comedy that would have been well worth reading. As it is: not for me.