Friday, June 24, 2011

The Rage of the Slouchy Dad

Posted By on 06.24.11 at 04:12 PM

David_Boyle.jpg
  • David Boyle
Noted postfeminist Katie Roiphe comes out this week with a few observations on the book Go the Fuck to Sleep, which is a sort of 2011 analogue to the popular blog-turned-book Stuff White People Like: witty, ironic yuppie fare. It’s an illustrated kids’-lit parody written in a profane bedtime-story-style rhyme; a sample, via Roiphe’s review: “The owls fly forth from the treetops. / Through the air, they soar and they sweep. / A hot crimson rage fills my heart, love. / For real, shut the fuck up and sleep.”

The book, which Roiphe reads as an indicator of yuppie parents' repressed rage, has done really well: the New York Times reported earlier this month that Go the Fuck to Sleep is a runaway hit for its publisher, an independent Brooklyn house that normally specializes in black and Latin American literary fiction. The Times article is worth reading if not just for the amusingly ginger little dance the newspaper has to engage in in order not to offend its own stylebook, and presumably any adolescent reader with a precocious interest in book publishing. (Go the Fuck to Sleep’s cover obscures with illustration the middle two letters of “fuck,” though the Times wouldn't be so vulgar: it would only print Go the ____ to Sleep, providing nothing so assistive as a, say, “rhymes with duck” to guide its readers.)

Still most famous and/or notorious for her 1994 debut questioning the concept of date rape (The Morning After), Roiphe has written other books in the intervening years yet remains singularly cranky about the ideas that animated her writing in 1994: namely sex, and gender relations, and What Feminism Has Wrought. Recently she wondered why young male novelists aren’t as horny as their literary forebears—“innocence is more fashionable than virility” these days, she lamented, “the cuddle preferable to sex”— which observation occasioned a hilarious Twitter attack from Ayelet Waldman, wife of Michael Chabon, who Roiphe singled out in her critique. (Waldman: “I am so BORED with Katie Roiphe's ‘I like the sexist drunk writers’ bullshit. She happily trashes my husband, but guess what bitch?” The follow-up: “He not only writes rings and rings and rings around you, but the same rings around your drunken literary love objects.”)

This time around Roiphe wonders what the success of Go the Fuck to Sleep says about the lives—specifically the sex lives—of its fans. Her concern for the way that raising a child radically alters a romantic relationship may be valid, but the writing is so overwrought—and the essay so single-minded—that it’s hard not to take the whole thing as little more than good zany entertainment. Which it is!—and in a style that’s oddly indigenous to certain loudly half-feminist feminists, like Camille Paglia (who is, to be honest, the only other example I can think of. Are there more?).

“Somewhere in the space between the book’s lush pictures and obscene words lies a kind of existential despair that is very particularly ours,” Roiphe writes. Toward the end of her observations, she describes a scene: “When the father turns back to the waking child’s bedroom, we look out at the comfy, sexless, vaguely depressive scene of his wife sprawled asleep on the couch under an ugly old blanket. No wonder the slouchy dad is full of rage.”

The slouchy dad is full of rage? That’s a hell of a band name. “Are they having sex, these slouchy rageful parents?” Roiphe wonders. “Not enough, perhaps.”

Interpretations of this domestic tableau may vary, though; in an e-mail, a friend theorized that the ugly blanket, not his sprawled sleeping wife, is what angers the slouchy dad: “someone needs a sexy new throw from pottery barn,” my friend thought.

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