LADIES’ MAN by Richard Price

Book Quote:

“I was a young man. Strong. Tight. White. And ready to love.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  AUG 11, 2011)

Crude and hilarious, Ladies’ Man from American author and screenwriter, Richard Price is a week in the life of Kenny Becker, a thirty-year-old college dropout who works as door-to-door salesman selling crappy cheap gadgets. It’s the 1970s, and Kenny lives in New York with his girlfriend, “bank clerk would-be singer” La Donna, a good-looking, marginally talented girl whose big night revolves around a cheesy talent contest at a hole- in-the-wall club called Fantasia. Kenny has a series of failed relationships in his past, and when the book begins, La Donna’s singing lessons, according to Kenny, appear to be placing a strain on the couple. On one hand, Kenny understands he’s supposed to support La Donna, but he also resents the time she is devoting to her singing lessons. Their sex life isn’t as hot and wild as it used to be and with Kenny’s rampant libido largely unsatisfied, he tends to blame the singing lessons for turning La Donna’s head. He sees her night at Fantasia as a potential disaster, but he feels unable to confront his doubts. For one thing, discussing La Donna’s singing is like handling dynamite, and for another, Kenny knows that keeping the peace is the surest way of getting laid:

“I wasn’t going to say dick. I couldn’t. In the beginning we could say anything to each other, but now it was too dangerous; if we started cracking on each other with truths at this point we would inevitably get to the bottom truth, which was that we had no damn right being together anymore, and I for one was scared to death of the alternatives. So I settled for the bullshit low-key rage of two people going through the motions of a relationship, a life; and I couldn’t let her humiliate herself at Fantasia in the name of not rocking the boat even though the boat was capsizing fast, and I would even have the stones to call it being supportive.”

While Kenny, who’s the glib narrator here, argues that he’s trying to protect La Donna from humiliation and a greedy, lying voice coach (a woman he insists on calling Madame Bossanova), it’s clear to the reader that Kenny’s “protectiveness” is rooted in other things. His own insecurities, fears, and possessiveness all play a role in his begrudging, resentful attempts to support La Donna’s Big Night at Fantasia. Kenny is the classic unreliable narrator; we see his world through his eyes, and Kenny, a self-styled ladies’ man, isn’t quite honest about his relationship problems:

“I must have lived with four La Donnas in the last six years and sometimes I thought I was destined to have twice as many in the next six. I seemed to float from one bad, heavy relationship to another, like a trapeze artist swinging from one suspended bar to the next with no net below.”

As Kenny’s week unfolds, the narrative vacillates back and forth between Kenny’s personal and professional life. His mornings begin in a diner with his fellow Bluecastle House salesmen–men who are older than Kenny–older, heavier, and not as handsome, so it’s easy for Kenny to reassure himself that he’s better than them and that the sales job is temporary–just until something better comes along. But Kenny’s at the age when it is becoming harder and harder to kid himself that he’s going somewhere.

Kenny’s relationship with La Donna inevitably implodes, and when he becomes “Kenny Solo,” his desperation grows as he pursues a series of meaningless sexual encounters–each one more degrading than the one before. With a flagging self image, an obsession about his abs, and with his life spiraling out of control, Kenny seeks meaning in his life through sex. While he stalks the neon bars, greasy, sordid whorehouses, and stroke booths of New York, it becomes obvious that Kenny is terrified of being alone, and that his attempts to fill the holes in his life conversely only serve to expose the hollowness of his existence. Author Richard Price establishes one incredibly-staged scene after another–the humiliation of meeting a high school loser who’s now affluent and happy, a late night talk show that draws frantic, lonely losers, the desperation of a singles bar, and the stroke booth where girls hype men into masturbation.

As an unreliable narrator, Kenny is at times the last person to “get it,” and that also means that we aren’t supposed to take his view of life without some skepticism. Kenny may think he’s special, but he’s just as desperate as the guy in the next stroke booth. Here’s Kenny in a singles bar:

“For the next hour I sat at the bar, drinking rum and pretending to watch a basketball game which had orange guys against green guys. People started piling in. I was having a hard time getting rolling so I continued watching the tube. A lot of guys watched the tube, leaning against the bar or the room divider, their drinks tucked under their armpits like footballs. There was no sound on, but we all watched that fucking game with a burning intensity like we were politicos and the screen was flashing election results. I didn’t even know who the hell were playing. My elation was taking a bath. Around me guys swamped girls like pigeons after croutons, blurting out lines so transparent and tacky that even I was offended. No wonder nobody ever got laid. I watched. I listened. I was an observer. A girl nearby, the brittle remains of an almost-melted ice cube floating on top of her half-hour-old drink, listened politely.”

Ladies’ Man is slated to become an American classic. This is a study of one man’s search for meaning and fulfillment through the neon lights of an emotionally barren landscape, and in Kenny’s case, he arrives at his destination with a new uncomfortable knowledge of his weaknesses and his limitations.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 10 readers
PUBLISHER: Picador; First Edition edition (June 21, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Richard Price
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


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August 11, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Allegory/Fable, Character Driven, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Drift-of-Life, Humorous, New Orleans

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