Book Review : Paul Cohen - The Glamshack (2017)
Henry had never before considered the Conquistador as a full, complex man. A man like himself. What to do with that?
I did not like Paul Cohen's debut novel The Glamshack. It's not poorly constructed or boring, it just got on my nerves a lot. It usually is the reason why I don't like a novel in general. It just rubs me the wrong way. Writing a review about a book I don't like is always a problem, because I have to do it in a way that fair, substantial and that won't warrant a slew of angry emails. Sometimes a negative review actually sells me a book more than a positive one, so this is what I'm trying to do here. I will tell you why I struggled to finish The Glamshack (which is a rather short novel) and why I think you may like it too. And, most importantly, why I may not like you if you liked it. My dislike for The Glamshack may or may not be ideological.
The story of The Glamshack goes like this. Henry Folsom is a fashion journalist infatuated with gorgeous woman who is never named. He just says Her with a capital h. Henry is spending a couple days alone in a place he calls the glamshack, waiting for Her and reliving intense memories from their relationship. He also becomes infatuated with a non-fiction book by Evan S. Connell titled Son of the Morning Star, which chronicle the battle of the Little Bighorn between General Custer and native American tribes. Ol' Henry has a tendency of getting infatuated with stuff. He begins drawing parallels between the book and his life and everything starts going downhill from there. It's a dude living in a luxurious shack going over the events that lead him there, mostly.
The main problem I have with The Glamshack is the protagonist Henry Folsom himself. He is a lonely, lonely man, but not the good kind of lonely. He is the kind that ends up with a dead hooker in his trunk, a one-way ticket to death row and a litany of semi-pathetic excuses. That dude is not well in the head. His situation is rather simple: he loves a woman from a world he doesn't belong to and she kind of loves him back because he makes her feel beautiful in a way other men don't. But she already has a life and he doesn't. Henry spends an inordinate amount of time building a mythical superstructure to filter a reality he cannot accept and justify his relationship. It's great it theory, but it starts taking over Henry's life like a serial killer's sick fantasy. I mean, he calls Her "the Goddess" at times. Who the fuck does that and takes themselves seriously past the age of twelve? *
"Baby," She says, and it's unclear to which Him She is speaking-perhaps to all Hims because to Her, one Him is the same as the rest of perhaps it's the Big Him and perhaps He even quivers at the sound of Her With the Meanness of Hell in Her Throat.
See what I mean here? I've asked myself out loud "what the fuck are you even talking about, Henry?" many times during my reading of The Glamshack. I realize that my dislike for this novel may sound profoundly unromantic and this may very well be my no-nonsense working class background talking. I did like many small things about the book. Henry's dissatisfaction with reality and the fakeness of the fashion world, for example. I did not like his inability to question this fakeness, but Paul Cohen's depictions of Henry's inability to exist and do his job in that world were interesting. Henry clearly is a guy longing for a higher truth and it should make sense in this setting. But when you're falling in love with an engaged woman, just don't paint yourself as a victim of some kind of cruel cosmic fate. That shit can happen, but either go for it or walk away, bro.
So, The Glamshack is technically a story about a man finding his truth in a world of fakeness of illusions, but it came off like the story of a dangerous weirdo falling in love with a fake and semi-hollow woman working in a fake and hollow business. It reminded me of Milan Kundera's writing. He is another writer I "kind of" get but don't appreciate. Paul Cohen quotes Kundera and refers to The Unbearable Lightness of Being's movie adaptation in the novel, too. I kind of feel bad writing this review because The Glamshack is a novel other people might really appreciate. My personal ethics ** got in the way of any possible enjoyment. I was reading other reviews before writing this piece and enough people enjoyed The Glamshack including the notoriously difficult Kirkus Reviews. It's a gorgeously written (sometimes overwrought) novel that explores interesting themes of truth and illusions. Paul Cohen's skills aren't the problem here. I just thought the protagonist was an asshole.
* Serial killers
** I'm not saying I find The Glamshack unethical here. Merely that it clashed with my values and worldview in general.