Matt Forney
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A Generation of Men by Frost

generation-menWhen Frost emailed me a Kindle copy of his newest book, the completed and revamped edition of his long-abandoned novel Trig, I blew through it in a couple of hours. I then sat down and tried to write my review, and subsequently wasted a month writing nothing because I had no idea what to say. Actually, scratch that; I knew what to say but not how to say it. I like A Generation of Men, but not because it has an engaging story, memorable characters, or interesting plot twists. Frankly, when you evaluate it on an objective metric, the book falls short in every one of those categories, yet I still think it’s a good read.

Honestly, the best comparison I can make is that Frost’s narrative writing is the literary equivalent of Beat Happening’s albums, yet merely stating that makes me feel like an asshole. Beat Happening was a eighties “punk” band founded by three college grads who couldn’t sing, write lyrics, or even play their instruments properly. Frost is a smart, dedicated guy, with two plus years of blogging and a pretty good self-help book under his belt. He’s not some idiot high on his own supply. But his first foray into narrative writing, last year’s 2012 End of the World Tour, was an unfinished dud, and A Generation of Men doesn’t measure up to the standards of his other works.

The novel is about three college-aged guys from radically different backgrounds trying to figure life out. The protagonist is Ian, an average dude who works hard at his classwork but still strikes out with the ladies. His best buddy Jason is a charismatic player, banging a new girl every few days and constantly coaching Ian to be less needy with women. Finally, we have Nick, an overweight, slovenly Chris-chan stand-in who plays World of WarCraft 14 hours a day and who’s never so much as kissed a girl. The plot follows Ian and Nick’s attempts to break out of their shells and become the men they want to be by reading up on game, working out and being more assertive in their day-to-day lives:

Jason took a breath, holding himself back. “It would be better than dinner at fucking Anton’s. How can you even afford that shit anyways? You are a broke-ass motherfucker, and I say that with love because I’m a broke-ass motherfucker too, but there is no fucking way blowing a hundred dollars on dinner at motherfucking Anton’s is a good idea for you. More importantly, if you ask her out to dinner, you’re gonna scare the shit out of her. She’s gonna think, wow, when the fuck did this cool guy turn into my fucking stalker? Take a deep breath and relax. Just go hit on her when you see her at the bar next.”

This hits on problem number one: the characterization is weak. You can see the hierarchy of game reflected in our male leads: Jason is the alpha, Ian the beta, Nick the hapless omega. There’s a wealth of psychological insight to explore here, and Frost, having lived all three of these realities at some point, is uniquely positioned to lead us into the murky depths. But even considering his own zero-to-hero transformation, he barely works to develop his characters beyond the crudest manosphere stereotypes.

And then we come to problem number two with A Generation of Men’s: the monologuing.

My God do these characters love to monologue. In egregious violation of the “show, don’t tell” principle of storytelling, Frost moves the story forward by having his characters monologue, either to themselves in their thoughts or to each other. Imagine if Aaron Sorkin was a huge Roissy fan, and you’ve got A Generation of Men in a nutshell. You’ve got Jason monologuing about the best way to get chicks, Ian monologuing about why everyone hates him (hint: it’s ’cause they’re jelly of his pussy-slaying ways), and Nick monologuing about what an utter loser he is:

Fuck you, said the piercing voice, a voice that virulently hated everything about the body and mind that hosted it. I fucking hate you. Just fucking die and get off this fucking planet. Pathetic little faggot, just fucking die.

Wow, I’m totally convinced that Nick hates himself for being a failure in life. This totally doesn’t sound like a 27-year old online entrepreneur trying to imagine how a pudgy virgin shut-in thinks.

But a funny thing happens in the middle third of the book: it gets better. Way better.

This is mainly because the monologuing and A Few Good Menesque pontificating takes a backseat as Frost relates the struggles of Ian and Nick to become men. Reading the chapters where Nick decides to get off the computer, go to the gym and get a life, you can almost imagine a Rocky-style training montage while “Gonna Fly Now” plays in the background. By chapter seven, I was almost ready to start pumping my fist in manly solidarity.

And then… the fucking ending.

The book’s final chapter is so jarring in comparison to the rest of the book that I’m half-convinced Frost was tripping balls when he wrote it. I won’t spoil it, other than to say that the ending comes completely out of left field and is blatantly ripped off from one of Andy Nowicki’s novels (and no, I’m not saying which one). The problem with this is that Nowicki’s works are defined by his Catholic beliefs; no matter how revolting or depraved his characters get, there is always that glimmer of redemption, that hope for salvation. It’s this crucial factor that makes his stories not only believable but emotionally wrenching. Stripped of its Christian context, Frost’s 11th hour plot twist comes off as a cheap and manipulative attempt to shock his readers, American Psycho without the black comedy.

If it weren’t for the book’s theme of taking the red pill, A Generation of Men would be a great addition to Oprah’s book club. I mean that in the worst possible way.

This is what I ultimately can’t stand about A Generation of Men: it’s not honest. Like I mentioned already, the three main characters’ personalities are rooted in Frost’s own experiences as a fat video game nerd-turned-assertive international go-getter. He has the insight and the intelligence to delve into this heart of darkness. Yet for whatever reason, he can’t or won’t do anything other than dip his toe into the swamp. Frost gives you a taste of what it’s like to be a unhygienic, slovenly omega virgin, a taste of what it’s like being an ass-kissing beta male, but he never serves you the whole three-course dinner.

If you want to be a compelling narrative writer, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you have to be honest. You have to be willing to cut yourself open and bleed out onto the paper. You have to take a harsh look at yourself—your flaws, failings and virtues—and not bullshit your readers about them.

If you’re going to maintain an ironic distance between your writing and yourself, there’s no point in even bothering.

For an example of what good, brutally honest writing looks like, check out Roosh’s A Dead Bat in Paraguay. That memoir stands head and shoulders above everything else because Roosh holds nothing back. He talks about his relationship with his sister, his childhood, his shitty job, and the soul-crushing ennui that defined his life in America. The book is more than a tale of adventure and a series of toilet jokes, it’s a psychological portrait. Roosh lets you feel his pain, which makes reading about his failures and successes all the more poignant.

Frost has the ability to be honest, which is why his constant failure to do so is so frustrating.

I know he has it, because he actually manages it about two-thirds of the way through the book. After having worked off his flab, gotten a better job and devoured several reams of pick-up material, Nick heads to a house party to try out some lines and hopefully get laid. I won’t spoil what happens, other than to say that it doesn’t end well. I winced a little reading that chapter because was so good, so relatable, so unrelentingly real that it hurt. It hurt because Frost had stripped away his subtle-as-a-gunshot method of storytelling to relate, in as unpretentious and blunt a style as possible, what happens when a formerly pasty gamer nerd goes to a house party to drop lines he read about in The Mystery Method.

It’s that glimmer of promise that ultimately makes A Generation of Men worth reading.

This book isn’t a quick cash-grab. It’s clear that Frost honestly tried to make this a compelling, thoughtful, complete novel. He fell short of first place, but he made an honest effort to get to the finish line, and the end product is interesting and entertaining enough that I’m happy to read it. It’s a demonstrable improvement over 2012 (which I will review one of these days) and shows that Frost is growing and improving as a storyteller.

Funny, that Beat Happening comparison holds up better than I thought; they went from releasing nearly unlistenable dreck in the mid-80’s to recording You Turn Me On, one of the best indie albums of the 90’s. Practice really does make perfect.

Click here to buy A Generation of Men.

Read Next: The Way of Men by Jack Donovan