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The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt Hardcover – May 17, 2011

3.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.”
—Vanity Fair
“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.”
—Modern Tonic
“Goulian writes poignantly
about reconciling a law degree with a penchant for wearing women’s clothing.”
—Entertainment Weekly

“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (May 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068118
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,553,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Greenbyoo VINE VOICE on June 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I can't claim to read two books a day like a certain large, cranky teacher at La Jolla High School, but I do read a lot, and memoirs are one of my favorite genres. Jon-Jon Goulian's witty, unreserved account of his adventures, insecurities, and personal oddities is now one of my favorites.

I'm also a child of the 70's/teen of the 80's and I had to smile at his familiar accounts of the highs and lows (mostly lows) of growing up during that era. Remember when it felt like your two little pimples were Everest and K2? Remember feeling like your body was betraying you as you went from cute-kid to gangly adolescent? Remember pushing the fashion envelope just to get a reaction from the conservative preps? (We might claim to get past our adolescent body-obsessions as we mature, but do we really? Or do we just obsess over different things as we age?) Goulian is brutally honest about the self-consciousness that plagues him well into adulthood, but somehow he never sounds annoyingly self-absorbed or even flaky (which is amazing, considering some of the stunts he pulls.) For such a self-described insecure person, he seems remarkably well-grounded and insightful to me.

He has genuine affection and respect for his family, and is truly sympathetic with their clumsy attempts to understand him. He fully admits that he is confounding, and even allows that he is just as puzzled as others with his odd behavior. In a family of egghead achievers, Jon-Jon is the enigma. He's smart but unmotivated, he's talented at soccer but tired of competing, and he likes to look feminine but isn't (exactly) gay. Of course his family doesn't get him, and he doesn't blame them.
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I'm assuming that whoever decided to pay Jon-Jon $750K for this...book?...is no longer employed by Random House, although "Random" is an appropriate adjective for whatever this is. This thing is primarily dreadful, although there are a few brief moments of light humor and insight that keep the reader reading for as long as physically possible before the shallowness and senselessness of it become overwhelming. Jon is clearly intelligent. Jon was clearly a gifted student and athlete. Why did Jon transform from soccer champ to Jon-Jon the cross-dressing, checked-out weirdo? Frankly, I stopped caring after about 50 pages or so of contrived and obsessive narcissistic nonsense. I just wanted the pain to go away. I'd be shocked if any of the "professional reviewers" quoted above actually read this book. Random House's marketing department called in some favors on this turkey. This "book" is less of a memoir and more of a metaphor for Jon's life - full of grand promise and great expectations, but ultimately failing to deliver anything of substance. Jon the middle aged "writer", who does bear a striking resemblance to a tattooed Nosferatu on steroids and stilettos, is still sadly obsessed with high school and the persona he created to garner attention and torment his parents. Has he finally fulfilled his destiny to be a more memorable freak than the mass murderer Andrew Cunanen? Possibly. Do I care? Not a bit. The saddest part of Jon's story, that he may never fully realize or accept, is that his crusade for "memorability" has deprived him of experiencing the greatest treasures in life. He has no real friends. He has no real relationships. He is probably incapable of loving anything but himself, and he will likely never have a family of his own.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Is the author transgressive? Sure. Interesting? Not so much.

It is telling that he describes himself as boyishly girlish or girlishly boyish- not mannish or womanish. As the book progresses ( and for a short book it seems awfully long) the author never grows up or expects himself to. While we may admire the author for his flouting of societal norms in terms of appearance, his unwillingness to take on any level of adult responsibility or maturity is less admirable .

While there are some intersting observations about gender and appearance, the author's self-absorption and immaturity make this a less than compelling book. We just can't find the author as fascinating as he finds himself.

A person who writes a memoir is asking us to view him or her as either a role model or a cautionary tale- you decide which one this is.
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I really enjoyed this book and read it all in one sitting. What resonated with me is how well it captured the difficulty in living a meaningful life in a class of society that is increasingly high pressured and type-A.

I think one of the hardest things in the world is to write something that is both hilarious and sad at the same time and this book really nails it. Without offering any spoilers, there are a ton of great stories (the trip to alphabet city) and characters in here (the high school English teacher).
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Format: Kindle Edition
Ever known someone who's always got a story to top your anecdote? Jonathan Goulian is your man. Ever worried about a rebellious, self-absorbed teenager you're sure is the worst case of teen angst on the planet? Jon-Jon can top that. He can name drop with the best of name droppers, all while implying he is above caring about goals, directives, careers, or other peoples' opinions. He's a self-styled intellectual, who claims his favorite outfit is a sarong and high heeled espadrilles. He never explains why such uncomfortable garb is his favorite, and I have to say his choice of footwear is not intelligent. Unless he likes the pain of bad feet, shin splints and hip and back problems in later life. This is the autobiography of a man who is not particularly comfortable with himself and, like many teens before and since, he strives to make others uncomfortable too. Except he's what? In his 40's now?

I found this book interesting in its supposed frankness. The author admits it is cheap therapy. If anyone truly offered him a $750,000 advance to write this book, I hope they got their money back. I give it 3 stars for chutzpah.
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