Ken Baker was a working-class boy from Buffalo, New York, who dreamed of playing professional hockey; his idea of masculinity was formed by a father who chain-smoked, warned his sons that "girls will ruin your life" (he had to marry the author's pregnant mother), and sneered at doctors' warnings to mend his bad habits--"You gotta die of something." But Baker had a tumor in his brain that flooded his body with the female hormone prolactin; he leaked milk from his nipples and could hardly ever have an erection. His wince-inducing memoir pulls no punches and uses no euphemisms in telling what it was like to be a sexually dysfunctional man in a sex-saturated society. Female readers may take a certain grim satisfaction in learning that men, too, can feel vulnerable and sexually exploited, but most will simply marvel at Baker's willingness to reveal the gory details of his failure-riddled sex life. Although he makes some high-minded claims about the insights he gained from his ordeal ("I was able to journey to a biological place few men will ever know.... My manhood today is stronger because of it"), what's really gripping here is his blow-by-blow account of what it felt like to dread sex instead of chase it, to approach intercourse as a test rather than a pleasure. We can only be relieved that surgery restored him to hormonally normal masculinity at age 27, although the girlfriend who stood by him through it and then listened to him explode with testosterone-charged rage when she complained about his subsequent insensitivity might disagree. Baker's slick prose reflects his background in celebrity journalism (he worked at People
and is now a senior writer at Us
), but there's no denying the fascination of his bizarre story. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Describing the locker-room banter of his college hockey team, Baker writes, "They don't realize how lucky they are. If they like a girl, just about the only thing stopping them from being with her is the girl. I also have to contend with myself." While locker-room epiphanies are ubiquitous in male gender studies, Baker's memoir about struggling with masculinity in contemporary culture is unique. Throughout his adolescence and early adult life, he suffered from a massive overabundance of prolactin--the hormone that allows females to produce milk. This imbalance, caused by a benign tumor in Baker's brain, engendered a host of physical problems, such as impotence, excess fat on his hips and breasts and sensitive nipples that would occasionally excrete a milky substance. While much of the book traces Baker's long medical quest for the cause of these unsettling symptoms, the heart of the book is a meditation on how society constructs maleness and what happens to men who do not fit the mold. Baker's account of his boyhood is well observed but ordinary, while his detailing of his adult romantic life is painfully adroit. Some of the best parts of the book show Baker's growing awareness of the role that homophobia plays in constituting "appropriate" social maleness: from seeing his father making fun of "faggots" in his youth to covering gay activist protests against Pat Robertson's homophobic religious views. A senior writer at US Weekly, Baker has a breezy journalistic style that may attract those outside the realm of gender studies. While his specific medical problem may be too singular to interest a mass readership, his contemplation of the social prisons of gender and sexuality is not. Agent, Jane Dystel.
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