“Eastman Was Here follows Alan Eastman, a washed up author who turns to Saigon for the swan song that will save his career and his marriage. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, the book highlights the type of authors who have cast a spell on us at some point—manly men boasting manly emotions, who dissolve their Pain in drugs, women and prose. These are writers descended from Hemingway’s poisonous line, but with a more urbane spin, like Roth, Updike, Irving, Mailer and their peers. You know, the stereotypical novelists who were the accolade-winning dicks in the American post-war literary scene.
We’ve all been suffering in their long, dark shadows ever since.”
“Any discussion of male loneliness must begin with two caveats. The first is that our loneliness cannot be the fault of women; this is no fedora-wearing, MRA message board polemic. The second is that the issues which may exacerbate loneliness are our own fault, stemming from concepts of masculinity that have given us a pretty good shake for millennia.
Modern American Masculinity is the one I know best, and it feels defined by stoicism, by beards and guns and backwards Flexfit baseball caps. Such atavistic ideas can be deeply alluring; I know, because I have felt them, too. So when a man who defines himself by his Modern American Masculinity is presented with something corrosive like loneliness, he can either sacrifice a part of that masculinity and express his emotional pain or internalize it and immolate with rage. One guess as to what choice many men make.”
“In Fond Du Lac, Wis., Russell introduces us to Tim Friede, who has taken man’s desire for inviolability to its intoxicating extreme, purging himself of even the most recognized and acknowledged of flaws: our susceptibility to snake venom. Friede is a practitioner of mithridatism, named for the Poison King, Mithradates VI, who immunized himself so effectively against the various foul defenses of nature that even Rome’s best poisoners could not make him sick. Friede voluntarily envenomates himself—when Russell sees him, via snake-and-fang—to inoculate against the serpents: an African water cobra, even a black mamba does not kill Friede. When Russell leaves him, he is hunched pitifully over a space heater alone, limbs still rigid.”