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The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt Hardcover – May 17, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
A man wears women's clothes, rejects a legal career, and otherwise baffles his parents in this flamboyant but callow memoir. Goulian, a former secretary at the New York Review of Books, has a Columbia B.A., an unused law degree, and a proud history of menial jobs and underachievement: "I own nothing, save nothing, accomplish nothing tangible and have no permanent hold on life." Goulian relates body-image issues (he had his first nose job at age 15), a militant refusal to grow up (at age 29 he was collecting stuffed animals and calling his long-suffering father "Dada"), or his gruesomely detailed sexual anxieties. Much of the book consists of Goulian fencing with relatives—including his choleric grandfather, the neoconservative philosopher Sidney Hook—as they nag him to do something with his life, but his defiance of bourgeois propriety and ambition comes off as defensive narcissism. Through all his flashy attempts to grab the reader's attention, Goulian's story never seems interesting or serious enough to deserve it. Photos. (May 17)
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“Is there anybody more likable than Jon-Jon Goulian? Toned, tanned, bedaubed with fantastic eye makeup—the first and only cross-dresser ever to have worked at The New York Review of Books—Mr. Goulian has made friendliness his life's work, tricking successive generations of newcomers into thinking that the New York literary world is populated with attractive and unusual people....A Gen-X update on an archetype we associate most readily with Woody Allen, [he] offers himself as 'a neurasthenic man' in a 'city of horrors,' terrified of moths, sex, saturated fat, the draft, Central Park, taxi cabs and high-school reunions. If Woody Allen were a cross-dresser from La Jolla, is this who he’d be?”
--New York Observer
“For anyone who’s ever felt like no one in a world that demands we all be someone, here it is: the psychedelically neurotic account, painfully brave and punishingly funny, of one human being’s long struggle to make his outsides match his unclassifiable insides.”
—Walter Kirn, author of Lost in the Meritocracy
“Never have I read a fish-out-of-water story that had me so instantly and irrevocably enamored with the fish.”
—Sloane Crosley, author of How Did You Get This Number
“[Goulian’s] life is one many would consider a success....yet this book isn’t just about his triumphs. It’s also about his struggles to come of age in a world in which he doesn’t fit....It is his voice, with its wryly humorous, slightly self-deprecating tone, that engages the reader.”
“A sassy, outspoken narrative [that] gets kudos for its droll frankness.”
“This is a book that will fill you with laughter, pity, identification, and admiration; it might also show you how to be a man. If Jon-Jon Goulian did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent him.”
—Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision
"Jon-Jon Goulian manages to pull off the hardest thing to do when writing about yourself, which is being totally candid yet also compassionate. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving this book, but everyone who’s ever felt like a freak will find it especially cheering, affirming, heartrending, and hilarious.”
—Emily Gould, author of And the Heart Says Whatever
“Jon-Jon Goulian’s journey from strange young man to stranger older man is tender, sweet, and very readable. One wishes him and his koala bear hand puppet, Mr. Marvel, a life of love and happiness.”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“I read this book in a single, thrilling sitting. It’s beautifully written, extremely moving, and, most important, funny as hell!”
—Simon Rich, author of Elliot Allagash
“You can't read this book without falling a little bit in love with Jon-Jon Goulian. Suddenly, at the age of 40, after not having published a word his whole life, he gives us one of the funniest, saddest, and most exquisitely crafted books about a dysfunctional neurotic ever written.”
—Katie Roiphe, author of Uncommon Arrangements
“Jon-Jon Goulian is beautifully, unabashedly himself as The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt.”
“A hilariously neurotic trip down the rabbit hole that is both a baffling series of oddities and an endearing, relatable sashay to self-acceptance – sometimes on the same page. Walking a mile in the first-time author’s leather pumps will make anyone feel normal – not because he’s so bizarre, but because, underneath all the protective armor – the eyeliner, the chandelier earrings, the ever-climbing neck tattoos – he’s just like us.”
“Goulian writes poignantly about reconciling a law degree with a penchant for wearing women’s clothing.”
“Some people have to dare to be original, but Jon-Jon Goulian would have to try hard to be normal. As the lawyer he is might say: he is sui generis. Read this book, and live a little.”
—Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation
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The rest is a hodge-podge of stories about growing up, his relatives' history, his sexual encounters, et al, and is fairly typical young biograph stuff at best (and wordy to an extreme), except that Jon-Jon views things in a macro fashion and is über-obsessed with anything and everything about his own body. Personally, I think he'll eventually discover that he's gay, (some people don't figure this out until very late in life) although there are many, many protests in the book to the contrary. And that in itself makes the reader wonder. Either way, it's a portrait of a young man who likes all-things-fashion in a feminine form. It's sad that his Mother fed into this self-absorption but I'm sure TV and the ability to "make it so" just because he wanted it had a lot to do with things. Had he been a struggling standard model guy, who has to actually work hard for a living, I'm sure he'd not have had much time to obsess about how low to wear his decolletage or what kind of earrings look best with a leapord print.
While I had high hopes for this bio, I found the book to be entertaining at best and highly nebbish and irritating at worst. Unfortunately, there is more of the latter than the former and that makes for this three star review.
Jon reportedly got a $750K advance for this book. I hope his first act, once he had the cash in hand, was to repay his parents for his wasted college and grad school education. And then apologized profusely for being such a twit.
The only good thing about this book, and the one thing that deserves a star is that AT LEAST Jon does not EVER blame his parents for the massive failure of his life. I blame them, at least partially, for being so supportive that Jon has never had to grow up and face the harsh realities of life - instead focusing on his neuroses and phobias to the point of inertia. But AT LEAST Jon is not so ungrateful.
Most recent customer reviews
It is telling that he describes himself as boyishly girlish or girlishly boyish- not mannish or womanish.Read more