Sean Thor Conroe’s novel delivers a nuanced account of the darker, more desperate attitudes of the young hetero-male today
Fuccboi would want me to tell you that his debut memoir-novel is a masterpiece. That he’s some kind of literary virtuoso, genius. That’s exactly what he’d want. Or needs. Because Fuccboi needs to be loved. Needs that attention like he needs those hits to get lit and live in the moment, not think about stuff like responsibilities, or relationships; instead replace those with shrooms and Karl Ove Knausgård and which ‘bae’ he might hook up with next (baes being potential-or-not female love interests, because a fuccboi is very, very straight). Only he can’t stop thinking about those prior things. Those relationship-sinews that hold this autofiction – and Fuccboi – together.
Part of that anger comes from being perceived as straight white male (even though Fuccboi is mixed race, the ‘white-adjacent’ kind; mum Japanese, the ‘ole man’, who left them, white; still trying to figure out how to be hapa, like most of us with mixed heritage), in a culture that might be quick to attack him for being misogynistic, sexist or racist. And to be fair he often says some dumb stuff: in a conversation about the gender pay gap where a high percentage of women are paid 70 percent for the same job as a man, he responds, ‘Wouldn’t that incentivize employers to hire women?’ Though, under the guff, he doesn’t actually seem to be misogynistic or sexist – just afraid of being cancelled for such things. And that gender-pay-gap-response is provoked by his current circumstance and his own self-hate (‘Unable to work. Holed up, stalled out, body fucked’), a sharp reminder that when people hit rock bottom, they lash out. Worried about seeming like a ‘predator’, Fuccboi goes through his ‘Walk Book’ (a publication about his failed attempt at walking across the US) and cuts out ‘every savage, ugly, testosterone-fueled, shameful thing’ he’d found most difficult to write even though the intention was to make others ‘aware of such flagrant tendencies in themselves’.
Another part of Fuccboi’s anger stems from the disenfranchised impotent feelings of dispossessed young males who see themselves as sidelined from mainstream culture: ‘When the convo flagged/veered woke towards the patriarchy and how women, in America, in 2018, were held down, I felt a rage bubbling. A rage I knew was sus but nonetheless couldn’t supress. How tf was I privileged. I couldn’t do shit. Not only that, no one allowed me to show/admit I couldn’t.’ But this self-assessment isn’t totally convincing because Fuccboi is privileged: he’s got a family who saves him, friends who stick around for him. A top college education is revealed in his style of writing that is at ease referencing literary figures (namely Sheila Heti, Eileen Myles, Gina Myers) alongside rap artists (Lil B, Dr. Dre, Young M.A) and which moves seamlessly between slang and his ‘School/Academic Voice’ – ‘This some hogwash yo’. Nonetheless, for a couple of years he is broke, can’t make rent, is constantly keyed, is out scraping $6 delivering 4am pizzas. Able to afford, at least, to be a fuccboi.
The rage that catalyses Fuccboi’s self-reckoning is formed of the stuff he tries to squash down – the shame, guilt, grief, for which he turns to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) to explain the emotional/psychological traumas that can’t be assigned a language. Those things that he represses until they manifest, inflame, in his body. Leading to hospitalisation, emergency steroids and, eventually, lifestyle changes (kale juices, ‘hella broccoli’, yogi teas), during which time the relationship-sinews provide support. In an age of quick intolerance and polarised positions, Fuccboi delivers a nuanced account of the darker, more desperate attitudes of the young hetero-male today; those flagrant tendencies not excusable, but which might be understood as rooted in, say, insecurity and poverty (of the financial-social-educational-emotional kinds). People are like snowflakes, Fuccboi notes, each unique and constantly changing. And that ability to see things from another person’s point of view, not by silencing but by including in the dialogue, will determine whether in the end we’ll get our shit together.
Fuccboi by Sean Thor Conroe, Wildfire, £16.99 (hardcover)