February 24, 2006

With new book, U of C alum offends to the Max

Ladies, start your engines. Or, better yet, lock your doors.

Just when you thought he’d finally grown up, gotten his law degree and—God forbid!—entered the real world, U of C campus legend Tucker Max (A.B. ’98) has published a bestselling compilation of his combat stories from the front lines of the War on Decency. In I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Max relates his tales of wanton debauchery, incorrigible misogyny, and just general sinfulness that have made him either the conquering hero or the prodigal son of a university not known for its affiliation with week-long benders and sexual deviance.

Max has made his mark as the Robin Hood of shock jocks; he preys on the vulnerability of the in-crowd while providing a vicarious catharsis for thousands of puerile college guys who have hardly known a woman’s touch. Because of this, his funniest stories are also the most absolutely horrifying and morally outrageous.

In one of my favorites, Max tells of an incident in which he asked a friend to hide in a closet with a video camera while Max and a teenage model had anal sex. The scene devolves into something you might see in an Ed Wood porno, but Max captures it uproariously. After treating his date to a $400 dinner at a posh Miami restaurant, Max writes that she “had doe eyes that made Bambi look like a heroin-chic CK model.” In stories like this, Max lives up to his billing as larger-than-life. Sure, he might be a larger-than-life bastard, but one cannot deny that the guy operates on a different plane of existence.

In many of the other stories in the anthology, however, Max could be mistaken for any Alpha Delt who’s had a few too many Pabst Blue Ribbons. In “The Famous Sushi Pants Story,” Max gives the blow-by-blow of a drinking contest with some guy at a sushi bar, refereed by Max’s personal Breathalyzer. The story ends—as all of us who have been in similar situations might have predicted—with Max throwing up in a bush, his pants missing and a state trooper’s flashlight shining in his face. The “butt sex” story portrays a cult hero; the sushi pants story shows just some poor shmuck who can’t hold his liquor.

Unfortunately, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell also suffers from the fatal “read one, read ’em all” syndrome. Most of the stories fall into one of two categories: Max tries a new sexual method with an unusual sexual partner or Max gets drunk off his feet and does something idiotic. In many of the stories, come to think of it, that’s just one big category. And, as Max himself even admits, “You can only tell the same, ‘I got drunk on Dom [Perignon] and fucked this hottie’ story so many times before it gets annoying.”

At various points in these stories, however, Max finds his true calling: excoriating the brainless gaggles of coeds who compose much of his fan base. It is absolutely shocking how easy it is to blame the victims of Max’s egomaniacal sexual rampages for bringing such obvious disaster on their own heads. Max rightfully unmasks them, revealing their phoniness and their insecurities.

But we should be wary of those who praise Max as the reincarnation of Holden Caulfield, or as a 21st-century James Dean who has traded in his red leather jacket for a handle of Smirnoff and a case of Red Bull. Caulfield and Dean’s character in Rebel Without a Cause find the meaning in their lives through their relationships with family and friends. Max, however, is utterly nihilistic; it’s not that he plays by his own rules, but by no rules at all. Because he represents his life as one big game of trading on his youth, none of Max’s exploits have any meaning for him. Emotional connection, rather than being life’s greatest reward, instead presents the most dangerous threat to Max’s profligacy. Because his philandering leaves him emotionally unavailable, I can neither admire nor condemn Max, but only pity him.

At the end of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden worries that when he dies, someone will write the words “fuck you” on his tombstone. That someone will probably be a whole lot like Tucker Max.

Max will be holding a book signing on Friday, February 24, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Books A Million, located at 144 South Clark Street.

There will also be a question and answer session at 6 p.m. followed by a book signing in Kent 107. A 21 and over after party for the event will be held at Carol’s Pub beginning at 11 p.m.