Willing [NOOK Book]


Thirty-seven-year-old freelance writer Avery Jankowsky is devastated when his girlfriend, Deirdre, confesses that she has been having an affair. Beside himself with jealousy and grief, Avery accepts his uncle Ezra's advice—and his tickets to an all-expenses-paid international sex tour. Sensing a white-hot book idea (and a chance to get back at faithless Deirdre), Avery joins a group of mostly wealthy and accomplished travelers on a mad Nordic whirl, descending ever deeper into a...

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Thirty-seven-year-old freelance writer Avery Jankowsky is devastated when his girlfriend, Deirdre, confesses that she has been having an affair. Beside himself with jealousy and grief, Avery accepts his uncle Ezra's advice—and his tickets to an all-expenses-paid international sex tour. Sensing a white-hot book idea (and a chance to get back at faithless Deirdre), Avery joins a group of mostly wealthy and accomplished travelers on a mad Nordic whirl, descending ever deeper into a world that is equal parts hilarity and nightmare.

From two-time National Book Award finalist Scott Spencer comes a startling tour de force that explores the limits of male restraint, the intoxications of privilege, and the maddening dangers of freedom.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Spencer's (Endless Love) witty and perceptive latest, struggling New York writer Avery Jankowsky has a midlife crisis at 37. Weary of his hand-to-mouth existence and obsessed with never being able to afford to buy an apartment, Avery's anxiety intensifies when he discovers that his younger girlfriend, Deirdre, has been unfaithful. His Uncle Ezra offers to help him get back on track by sending him on a high-end sex tour that includes stops in Reykjavik and Oslo, and Avery gets his big idea: write a book about the experience. One fat advance later, his life would seem golden, but Avery has not reckoned with the complex personalities of the men he is traveling with nor with the long-buried conflicts within himself that come bubbling to the surface as the tour goes on. Although some of the plot isn't entirely convincing, the details from moment to moment are rich, captivating and often hilarious, and the description of Reykjavik's atmosphere dead-on. There's not enough plot for a great novel, but Avery is intensely self-aware and intoxicatingly articulate even when his feelings (and actions) are less than savory. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Titillating jacket copy about journeying into the unsavory world of international sex tourism aside, this new novel by National Book Award finalist Spencer (A Ship Made of Paper) is more of a journey into the unsavory mind of Avery Jankowsky, freelance writer and average-guy narrator of the story. Half-crazy over ex-girlfriend Deirdre's infidelity and desperate to leave their shared apartment, Avery is on a round-the-world sex tour to take sneaky notes and write a tell-all book. The huge advance will net him the New York City apartment he covets, but he has to appear to be a willing (and randy) male member of his tour group while maintaining his objectivity and high-minded disdain for sex with high-class whores. Also still clinging to the moral high ground with Deirdre, refusing to see where things went wrong, Avery presents a face as false as the names of the women he meets in hotel rooms across Scandinavia. Packing a one-two punch of ruthless self-examination and tragicomic farce, this short novel is recommended for most fiction collections.
—Laurie A. Cavanaugh

Kirkus Reviews
After a strong beginning, this novel about a writer on an international sex tour doesn't show much staying power. Spencer has long specialized in inspired novelistic setups (A Ship Made of Paper, 2003, etc.), but rarely has he seemed to have more fun than he does here with the introduction of his first-person protagonist. Though scuffling freelancer Avery Jankowsky has traces of Bellow's Augie March and Roth's Portnoy in his voice, he's as unlucky in his career as he is in romance. It seems he only has one real story to tell: that of his mother's four marriages, which resulted in her son's four successive surnames. He quickly runs out of steam with his potential lovers-perhaps it's his fatalistic attitude toward his younger girlfriends that chases them away. Following the confession by his latest that she has been having an affair with a brutish Russian, he finds himself, through an improbable coincidence, booked onto what is supposed to be a first-class sex tour-through Scandinavia rather than the more child-exploitive Southeast Asia. The tour comprises the novel's second and lesser half, as Spencer introduces so many characters that the reader has trouble keeping them straight, and Spencer (or Jankowsky) proves squeamish at writing about actual sex. What is billed as a fantasy excursion seems more like a farce, one that has the narrator waxing philosophic about his noble instincts and his animal nature, his struggle with good and evil (or at least bad) and his loss of the ability to make "the distinction between what was naughty and what was despicable." Spencer makes potentially transgressive fare seem pedestrian, with the novel meandering its way toward a finale that feels abrupt andarbitrary-as foreplay ultimately leads to an anticlimax. Against all expectation, considering the subject matter, Jankowsky is a more interesting character than the novel in which he finds himself.
“Spencer writes of passion with precision and candor…buoyantly funny...immensely moving.”
The Barnes & Noble Review
I'm not sure I have ever been able to turn away from the sight of a naked woman, Avery Jankowski observes in the opening pages of Willing, Scott Spencer's uproariously funny, unexpectedly moving novel about a freelance writer who decides to recover from a failed relationship by embarking on an upscale, all-expenses-paid sex tour. Neither has the author: Spencer's great subject has always been doomed, obsessive love and the intimate intricacies of the war between the sexes. Disconcertingly, given the modernity of his fictional world, he has the emotional range of the great 19th-century novelists (then again, as the British critic Martin Green once observed, to general consternation, the universe of the Glass family living room in Franny and Zooey is as psychologically capacious as that of Anna Karenina). It's one of the great ironies of modern literary history that Endless Love, Spencer's incandescent account of young love gone ineradicably wrong, is now chiefly remembered as the source of a ridiculous Franco Zeffirelli movie and an equally risible Lionel Richie song. To his credit, Spencer, whose midwestern sense of proportion leavens his characters' passionate intensity, seems to be in on the joke.

In Willing, Jankowski listens to the confession of his lover Deirdre's infidelity in disbelief, eventually giving back as good as he gets. "I believed what Freud said about the two things you need for happiness, Love and Work," he writes, "Now that the former had let me down, I doubly committed myself to the latter...."

I sent my agent, Andrew Post, a flurry of pitches, or pitches for pitches, most of them, I see now, insane and unsellable.... For instance, I proposed writing a piece called "Stalking," in which I would "assume the identity" of someone obsessively following someone, say, a woman, say, just for the sake of illustration, a woman with whom the writer is or has been involved, and what it is like to trail after her.
When his uncle proposes the freebie "Lamborghini of sex tours" -- organized by a business partner who owes him a favor -- Jankowski, alert to the financial opportunity it presents as a potential book subject, jumps at the chance. The conflict between writing for love or lucre is one of the many subjects Spencer has addressed expertly. His 1995 novel, Men in Black, is an account of the adventures his narrator undergoes after a cut-and-paste book about extraterrestrials he pseudonymously writes becomes an unexpected -- and unwelcome -- bestseller. Willing satirizes the same sorts of Grub Street pressures: "I wasn't vain about my writing," Jankowsky allows. "I was perfectly aware that I was not writing The Odyssey or the Bill of Rights, and above all, I did not forget that everything you write for a newspaper or magazine ends up at the bottom of some poor canary's cage. I knew where the caged bird craps."

He greets the admission of an affair by Deirdre, a graduate student of Russian history, with a younger man named Osip with growing, deadpan dismay. "I admit I made a mistake, she said.... I was so curious, all these years, studying Russia and I had never really known a Russian. It really will never happen again. How do I know that? I said. What if you meet some other type of man you haven't had intimate knowledge of? What if you meet a Tibetan or some great Patagonian guy? But it's my major, she said, her voice rising plaintively, as if I were unreasonably withholding my compassion."

Although he successfully auctions the rights to the sex tour tome for a cool $400,000, it comes as no surprise that the trip is a disaster or that Jankowsky's scruples about remaining an observer, and not becoming a participant, go quickly by the wayside. Despite this, Spencer manages to skirt (barely) the misogynistic potential of the material; his narrator is keenly aware of the absurdity, as well as the misery, of his complicity in the situation. "A man without a woman is a wretched thing," Jankowski admits.

While Willing is essentially a comic novel -- none of the characters, male or female, have the kind of emotional complexity exhibited by the members of the love triangle at the center of Spencer's last novel, A Ship Made of Paper, it has an emotional honesty of its own, as illustrated in this passage describing Jankowsky's awkward first encounter with Ingrid, a Reykjavik hooker: "There were the lies you told yourself to trick someone out of that which they would not give you under other circumstances and then there was this, the lies you told with the understanding that they would not be believed, the lies you agreed to tell, and the lies you agreed to hear. All that decency demanded was staying in character."

Jankowsky does his best to stay decent despite his indecent, bereft circumstances. As in Spencer's other fiction, sex is the raw material his protagonists use to tap into their essential natures, above and beyond the insoluble dilemmas of the world. "I believe in my desire," Jankowsky tells his mother, when she tracks him down in the middle of his tour, to confront him about what the hell he is doing. But he knows that desire alone is not enough, and that knowledge is the heart that beats beneath the artifice of Scott Spencer's considerable art. --Paul Wilner

A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Paul Wilner is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times book review sections, the online magazine obit-mag.com, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Times "Arts and Leisure" section, among other publications.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061974946
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 661,223
  • File size: 713 KB

Meet the Author

Scott Spencer

Scott Spencer is the author of nine previous novels, including A Ship Made of Paper, Waking the Dead, and the international bestseller Endless Love. He has written for Rolling Stone, the New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, and Harper’s, and has taught writing at Columbia University, the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Williams College, and for the Bard Prison Initiative. He lives in Rhinebeck, New York.

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    1. Hometown:
      Rhinebeck, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 1, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B. A., University of Wisconsin, 1969

Read an Excerpt

A Novel

Chapter One

So there I was, Avery Jankowsky, New York City, early twenty-first century, not terribly well educated in light of all there was to know, but adequately taught in light of what I had to do. I wasn't someone you could push around, but I was not a leader, not a standout. I was a face in the crowd, a penitent on the edge of a Renaissance painting, a particularly graceful skater in a Breughel, the guy in the stands at the World Series, right behind the crepe bunting, his hand on his heart and his eyes bright with belief during the singing of the national anthem. Why would you even give him a second look? But you do. Physically, I was of the type no longer commonly minted, a large serious face, a little heavier than necessary, broad shoulders, sturdy legs, hair and eyes the color of a lunch bag. I had a kind of 1940s manliness—perhaps the doomed manliness of the father I had never known—and, unfortunately, I had a kind of 1940s income, too. Thirty-seven years old, and I had studied a chart that had run in one of the monthlies I sometimes wrote for, and in terms of income I simply wasn't where I should be. The thing is, if I'd had more money, it could be that none of this would have happened. Heracleitus taught us that Character is Fate. I don't want to argue, but money is, too.

Did I need more than I had? To that, I would have to say Yes. Did I want more than I had? Here, the Yes is unequivocal. Not that I was one of the Gimme Gimme people. I was not hatching schemes to make millions. I was not one to shove my way to the front of the line. I was not plotting the downfall of my competitors. Here'sthe way it was with me: I was staring at my half-empty plate with the absurd hope that my sad, hungry eyes might one day inspire someone to heap some of the world's bounty on me.

Be careful what you wish for, But before that, before I got what I wished for, and more, which is, as most people know, another way of saying Before I got what I wished for, and less, I was, to be perfectly blunt about it, still absorbed with the Sisyphean task of getting over my childhood, which was not at all how I wanted to be spending my brief flicker of existence, but was, to my perpetual chagrin, what I seemed to be stuck with.

When I asked myself Why am I me? I usually didn't look much further than the fact that I was a man who had had four fathers.

Each time my mother remarried she took her new husband's name, and I did, too. If we were to meet when I was fifteen and I said, as I would have, because I was rather formal as a teenager, How do you do, my name is Avery Jankowsky, I would be giving you relatively new information. Jankowsky was my fourth and final name. First there was Kaplan, after my first father. I don't like to call him my real father because he was around for such a short time, certainly not long enough to corner the market in realness. I wasn't yet walking or talking at the time of his death, and I have no independent memories of him; all I have are my mother's handful of repeated stories about him, memories I have more or less incorporated as my own, something in the way ethnic minorities in the former Yugoslavia have heard the stories of the crimes committed against them by the Moors in the time of Suleyman and somehow take these experiences as their own. I don't like to call him my birth father, either, since he didn't give birth to me, and Ejaculation Father is just nutty and rude, so for the most part I have simply called him Ted, though sometimes I have referred to him as Mr. Kaplan.

After I was Avery Kaplan I became Avery Kearney, out of my second father, Andrew, who was Ted's partner in a flag and banner business, and who was himself a stern Irish miser, with large ears and icy hands. The marriage lasted eight years, until my mother was caught in an affair with the man who would become the third and by far the worst of her husbands, a sadistic, sarcastic bully named Norman Blake. And so I became Avery Blake, wearing his name like a crown of thorns. In Einsteinian-emotional time, that seemed like the most protracted of her marriages, though, in fact, it lasted three years, which I would say was an embarrassingly short time for a marriage, except my one marriage was even briefer than that. After Blake was swept into the dustbin of conjugal history, I had my mother to myself, relatively speaking, for eighteen months, and then, just when the gears of our shrunken family began to mesh, she met and fell in love with my fourth and final father—Gene Jankowsky. Gene was a painter, a maker of large busy canvases, full of reds and oranges and darting little arrows indicating the flow of energy, that is, God's presence. He was tall and thick, with a Russian mystic's beard and hair down to his shoulders. His clothes and hands smelled of turpentine and his breath carried the yeasty tang of B vitamins. He loved van Gogh, St. Francis, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, and, to my great relief and surprise, he loved me, too. He saw me as a helpless boy tied to the zigs and zags of a childish woman's life, like a water-skier hitched to the stern of an out-of-control speedboat.

My mother was born to Jews, and her first husband, Ted Kaplan, was Jewish, too. Kearney and Blake were both Catholics, though Kearney . . .

A Novel
. Copyright © by Scott Spencer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2014



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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2008

    'You can't always care about what you do, and how you behave.'

    If I had to express one thing about this book it would be: Wow, this man can write! By why stop there? I heard Scott Spencer on my car's radio the other day when tuned to NPR with Terry Gross, and even though I arrived at my destination, I stayed seated with my seatbelt in place just to hear him read more excerpts from this unusual story, Willing. This is a book that goes by quickly, even though the structure (a complete lack of dialog punctuation) requires you to read slowly. A writer's writer, Spencer is a master of description and has a keen wit filled with gritty, streetwise originality. From the initial description of his narrator, Avery Jankowsky, to every curious character leading up to and embarking upon an around the world sex tour, which is the heart of this dark tale, possibly the only thing short-changed is the answer to the question, who was the man doing pushups in room 420 of the Hotel Christofer? Other than that, this story holds nothing back. Avery is a freelance writer in his late 30s, who has just discovered his young girlfriend has been unfaithful. Already damaged by being raised by four fathers and a self-centered mother, he accepts an opportunity presented by his Uncle Ezra to sleep with beautiful women in a series of Nordic countries. It's a $135,000 gift, which leads to a book opportunity that will have enormous financial benefits--thus solving his previous fate of being poor. As if that were the basis of all his problems. As the trip unfolds, Avery learns there is a very high price to pay for the decisions he's made. 'Even the milk from our mother's breast comes with a bill that we are eventually meant to pay.' And his mother, Naomi, makes this all very clear. Avery tries to justify his lapse into debauchery by telling himself things like (the headline of this review), 'you can't always care about what you do and how you behave ' however, it's Naomi who shows him the exact opposite is true. This is excellent work and I give it my highest recommendation.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A reviewer

    Thirty-seven years old New York writer Avery Jankowsky is tired of not making it as he lives from day to day with no money put away and a diet that would make peanut butter seem like a luxury. Worse his apprehension for the future turns uglier when he learns his girlfriend Deirdre is cheating on him.------------- Being depressed and feeling sorry for himself, he turns to his Uncle Ezra at their monthly luncheon in Grand Central Station Ezra says all his nephew needs is a quality sex vacation for the affluent as everyone has these moments when they can¿t get it up. Ezra sends him to Iceland and from there the continent on a tour of the upper crust sex capitals of the world. Avery¿s early encounters lead him to realize his tour is worthy of a book his publisher loves the idea and gives him an advance, but as he gets to know his male companions he wonders if a tell-all is ethical.---------- Although the plot is somewhat limited, readers who appreciate a deep introspective character study will want to read the adventures of Avery Jankowsky on a sex tour starting in Reykjavik and climaxing seemingly all over the continent. Avery makes the tale fun as his growing understanding of himself is poignant and that of his companions insightful and humorous as he knows this tour is like traveling in a locker room with high school randy boys. Fans will enjoy the ups and downs of Jankowsky¿s sexual tour.----------- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted November 17, 2013

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    Posted December 27, 2010

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