This book is the intellectual equivalent of being shoved feet-first into a meat grinder.
In Confessions of a Would-Be Wanker, Andy Nowicki’s first nonfiction title, he lays bare the chaos and conflict of his soul for all to jeer at. Nowicki’s numerous fiction works, from The Columbine Pilgrim’s psychological profile of spree shooters to Heart Killer’s erotic revenge story, all revolve around one central conceit: sex. Specifically, Nowicki’s characters exist with one foot in the material world and one in the spiritual: too depraved to be saints, too disgusted with themselves to be devils. From spinster therapists to wormy little priesthood rejects to middle-aged stalkers, the protagonists of Nowicki’s works are made and unmade by their carnal desires.
Now, we get a look at the thought processes of the man who created them.
Confessions bills itself as a “Manifesto,” but as Nowicki himself acknowledges in the opening, the book doesn’t have much of a call to action. Indeed, as the “would-be” qualifier stipulates, he doesn’t even consider himself worthy of joining his own cult. Confessions is more an apologia for Nowicki’s own beliefs and ideas than an attempt to convince people of their righteousness. It’s a glimpse inside the sausage factory of his mind, with Mr. Mackey as tour guide: “Fucking’s bad, mmmkay?”
Viewed in this light, Confessions of a Would-Be Wanker is a must-read.
The book is divided into two parts, the first of which, “Manning Down,” comprises the bulk of Confessions’ length. The story is a seamless melding of autobiographical anecdotes from Nowicki’s childhood merged with his tongue-in-cheek philosophy dividing the world into “wankers” and “fuckers.” The defining moment of his life was puberty, a psychological Rubicon that he was forced across at gunpoint:
But I didn’t refrain from actively engaging in the quest for romantic entanglement merely because I feared the pain and humiliation of rejection, though of course these bruising psychic contusions were far from unknown to me. The few times I fell in love with a girl and made my feelings known were of course doomed to end in this manner, since my taste was always for girls who were, as they say, “out of my league.” Though I’d been a beautiful boy in my (pre-sexual) early childhood, I’d grown ghastly, gawky, pale, spotty, and awkward by the time my teen years rolled around. Forcibly shoved to the bottom of the high school food chain, my carnal aesthetics nevertheless remained hopelessly elitist and aristocratic; girls who were likewise plain or slightly unsightly, as I was, would no doubt have agreed to my companionship. But alas, to paraphrase Woody Allen, the loins want only what they want, and can’t be convinced to settle for anything other than that perceived ideal.
Casual readers will note—and be shocked by—how much Nowicki has infused himself into his fiction. It’s one thing to read a novel about a bullied nerd who grows up to be a vicious murderer: it’s quite another to see the exact real-world events that made said bullied nerd such a convincing and poignant character. While some of Nowicki’s stories will not be too surprising (for example, he recounts how popular girls used to humiliate him in high school by mock-flirting with him), others will stun you; for example, I was initially floored by the section where he discusses his spiritual agnosticism.
Most of the “Manning Down” section is devoted to Nowicki’s inability to fit his square peg into the round hole of pubescence. While it would be easy to turn this kind of topic into a whiny blubber-fest, he deftly avoids bathos in favor of ruthless black comedy. The unifying theme of Confessions is the corruption that sex brings to human relations, how it inspires cruelty in its haves and cowardice in its have-nots. In one of the book’s more tragicomic sections, Nowicki discusses how his suffering at the hands of the popular girls so jaundiced him that he ended up rejecting a dweebette who actually was interested in him:
In any event, Suzanne showed up the next morning in a skimpy little frock, and sat down next to me. I didn’t look up. We dwelt together in silence for a long moment, and as the seconds ticked past, the blood coursed to my head once more, as it had the previous day; my heart thumped madly, and I wished to be anywhere in the world other than where I was. Presently Suzanne spoke: “I wore this dress just for you, Andy,” she said. Again with the silly sotto voce; again, the gratuitous repetition of my name. In response, I muttered something vaguely dismissive, causing her immediately to snap out of middle-school “sexy” mode and turn mortally offended. “Fine! Be that way!” she huffed, then got up and left.
It’s this hellscape of hormonal misery that forms the basis for Nowicki’s division of the world into “wankers” and “fuckers.” In his view, a wanker is a man who has realized that his sexual desires are a liability, not an asset. Fuckers are slaves to their biological impulses, flighty creatures who live and die by the approval of others, anything to slake their thirst for pleasure. A fucker can be easily controlled through the manipulation of his lusts, and indeed usually is. In contrast, the wanker seeks to impress no one, for he has nothing to gain by shucking and jiving for the benefit of the masses. Unable to return to the Christ-like state of childhood innocence, the wanker does the next best thing in refusing to kneel to the great god Pan:
In addition, the wanker is acutely aware that being sexual makes him vulnerable, even weak. It renders him easily exploitable. If a girl says she wants him, he feels elated, and the putty aching to escape his testes through his urethra reduces him to putty in her hands. A man who succumbs to flattery in this manner is a man enslaved; he is—properly speaking—no man at all, having lost his capacity to behave in a manner which denotes a free will. He has ceased to be a dignified creature, “noble in reason, infinite in faculty… in apprehension, like a god,” having instead been transformed into a slobbering, clownish freak. He is so excited about the notion of being wanted, and so fired up at the prospect of getting to have sex, that he will forfeit that which exalts him, and allow himself to be led around by the “nose” (the nose in this case obviously signifying an entirely different organ).
As the designated ambassador of the “manosphere,” this is the part where I’m supposed to call Nowicki a fag and dunk his head in the toilet, preferably while chanting “NOWICKI LIKES DICK! NOWICKI LIKES DICK!” to the jeering crowd.
Yet for some reason, I can’t do it.
As recently as two years ago, I would have scoffed at Nowicki’s philosophy of onanistic retreat. Indeed, I still think the gulf in our worldviews is in part a generational thing: the pessimism and angst of the Nomads (Generation X) versus the optimism and can-do attitude of the Heroes (Millennials). But Nowicki’s thesis transcends the usual trite arguments on sexual morality and addresses the fundamentally destructive nature of sex. No matter what form it takes, sex is the Anti-Life Equation, rending lives as effortlessly and ruthlessly as its purported antithesis, death. In the past two years alone, I’ve watched as lust—my own and that of those around me—has ended several of my friendships, shattered my heart multiple times, and even covered me in public shame.
There’s another angle to Nowicki’s ministrations. Our mutual friend Ann Sterzinger recently described him as a horror writer, master of a world where sex itself is Cthulhu, dragging us all into its maw. But there’s more to his oeuvre then anaphrodisia or GenX alienation: Andy Nowicki is the most quintessentially Catholic writer of our time. I don’t mean in some ham-handed theological way, especially considering that Nowicki’s tales of depucelated teens and emasculated husbands would horrify parishioners of any church.
Andy Nowicki’s works capture the essence of the Catholic soul.
At its heart, Catholicism is a tribe, not a religious denomination. Belief in God is optional; if you’re born a Catholic, you die a Catholic. Alienation and martyrdom is the core of the Catholic identity. Denounced as fifth columnists, moral degenerates, and racial untermenschen by the Protestants, to be Catholic is to be a pariah in your own nation. It’s having your life defined by pain and ostracism, to the point where you specifically begin seeking them out. A Catholic desires nothing more to be nailed to the cross, as John Dolan wrote in his poem “Waterloo”:
I could have done well at Waterloo
As I drove them
In my selfless platonic way
Around the rainy curves
Seeing all the rainy sights;
I could’ve done well
I had no life
In the body
Not like these surfers
They’d make terrible soldiers
They’ve had too much sports
Looking at him
Too much sex
Looking at her
They’re too attached to their limbs
If a surgeon started sawing their legs off
At a field hospital with no anaesthetic
Twerps are what you need
Twerps from a nineteeth-century
Family if you want an army
That will stand its square
While the cannon furrows rip through it
Furrows consisting of your friends
To be Catholic is to be against the world, to tear down golden calves no matter how suicidal the struggle. Every work of art produced by a Catholic from a Protestant-majority nation is defined by this self-abasing contrarianism. John Dolan revolted against seventies-era California cool with his own brand of virginal dorkiness. Camille Paglia savaged the lesbian orthodoxy of feminism by proclaiming her appreciation for men. John Kennedy Toole and Flannery O’Connor ridiculed the provincialism of the pre-Civil Rights South. Johnny Rotten sneered at England’s chattering classes, who thought they could escape the evil they wrought on the world.
Even Tolkien got in on the act: The Lord of the Rings is a quintessentially Catholic tale of a world in decline.
Andy Nowicki and Ann Sterzinger are the latest scions of Catholic literary iconoclasm. Sterzinger’s novels strike the root of American thanatophobia by attacking the worship of life itself, while Nowicki yanks up the rotten floorboards of lust to reveal the filth and vermin underneath. His works are a broadside not only against the mindless hedonism of secular society but the head-in-the-sand churlishness of its “traditionalist” opponents. He accepts the pretty lies of neither side in his quixotic pursuit of the truth.
And while he wasn’t born a Catholic, he embodies the Catholic soul so well that he had me fooled.
Since I’m obligated to keep this review from being a total hagiography, I’ll mention my two biggest problems with Confessions. The first is that its second part, “College Drama,” isn’t integrated very well into the book. “College Drama” concerns Nowicki’s tenure as an undergrad thespian, cast in the role of Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and expected to act out scenes of lust despite still being a virgin. While as darkly comic as the rest of the book, it feels tacked on and somewhat superfluous.
The second problem with Confessions is the cover art. Yeah yeah yeah, don’t judge a book by its cover, but the particular shade of red Nowicki is using combined with the white lettering makes my eyes twitch. The spartan design of Confessions is definitely going to hurt the book’s popularity, which is a shame considering its profound nature.
But really, don’t let the menstruation-colored cover or even your disagreement with Nowicki’s views keep you from buying this book. Confessions of a Would-Be Wanker is one of the most remarkable and important intellectual works to come out of this part of the Internet. It’s a brutally funny memoir, an honest psychological portrait, and a blistering statement of defiance all at once. Among a species ruled by base lusts, Andy Nowicki stands athwart history with his middle finger in the air.
Click here to buy Confessions of a Would-Be Wanker.
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