Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Ignore the Rules, forget about the inauspicious misalignments of Mars and Venus, don't even think about the Ten Stupid Things we all seem to do to mess up our lives. What if there were a much simpler explanation for the eternal misunderstanding between the sexes, an answer so painfully obvious that no one has ever seriously considered it until now? In what is sure to be one of the most talked-about fiction debuts this season, Laura Zigman presents a hilarious new take on the ever-confusing courtship rituals of the naked ape -- in terms that even the male of the species can understand.
Meet Jane Goodall. No, not the Jane Goodall. Our urban-jungle Jane is a "recovering monkey scientist," an ex-examiner of primate mating habits. Before she began moonlighting as an expert in animal husbandry, Jane had a job booking talent for a semi-serious late-night talk show in New York City. There she met the new executive producer, Ray, fell in love with his boyish enthusiasm and J. Crew charm (not to mention his washboard stomach), and surrendered to unprecedented conjugal bliss -- all in the space of three short months. But no sooner had she given up her cozy Manhattan apartment to move in with the man of her dreams than she awoke to find herself literally out in the cold -- in a word, dumped.
Sound familiar? Let's see a show of hands: Ladies, has this ever happened to you? Gentlemen, is there anything you'd like to say in your defense at this time?
Inconsolable, brokenhearted, and soon to be homeless, Jane strikes back at Ray the only way she knows how, surprising even herself by moving in with the office Lothario, Eddie Alden. Once installed in Eddie's rough-hewn spare bedroom (a few unusual modifications were made with an ax the night the love of Eddie's life dumped him), Jane settles in to a routine of lonely evenings on her "what-will-become-of-me-couch," sipping Jack Daniels from an oversized coffee mug and obsessing over Ray's emotional cut-and-run. But Eddie, it seems, has a more proactive remedy for what ails him. Jane watches with a mix of horror and fascination as he dons his "lucky suit" (his only suit) and goes trolling trendy watering holes for his "next wife," luring a seemingly inexhaustible procession of Barnard seniors, fashion models, and socialites back to his downtown lair.
Gradually, an idea comes to her: What better way to gain insight into the ways of "this narcissistic subspecies of men, this Homo erectus commitmentphobe" than by studying the group's alpha male? Setting up base camp in her cavelike bedroom, she fills notebook after notebook with her observations. The disturbing similarities between the pattern of Eddie's conquests and that of her own recent affair with Ray -- whirlwind courtship and instant intimacy followed by a dramatic loss of interest -- give Jane the idea that there is something at work here beyond mere coincidence. She begins to skim through newspapers, college textbooks on abnormal psychology, and scientific journals for corroborating evidence, and in a chance reference to the "Coolidge Effect" -- a veterinary euphemism that describes a bull's reluctance to mate with the same cow twice -- Jane makes a groundbreaking psychosexual discovery:
Male animals do not choose their mates randomly: they identify and reject those that they have already had sex with. In the case of rams and bulls it is notoriously difficult to fool them that a female is unfamiliar. Attempts to disguise an old partner by covering her face and body or masking her vaginal odors with other smells are usually unsuccessful. Somehow she is identified as "already serviced" and the male moves on to less familiar females.
What if the same were also true for the human male?
Suddenly it all fits into place. When Jane was a prospective "New-Cow" to Ray, she was alluring, irresistible. Demoted to the status of "Old-Cow," she has only one option: alert the rest of the herd.
With the help of her girlfriend Joan, another recent addition to the Old-Cow corral, Jane assumes the persona of reclusive animal behaviorist Dr. Marie Goodall, "cofounder and director of the Institute for the Study of Pathological Narcissism in Vienna," and successfully pitches an advice column for a struggling men's magazine on the assumption that "men are narcissistic enough to want to read about themselves no matter what is being said about them." Predictably, Dr. Goodall's first article, "The Old-Cow-New-Cow Theory, Allelomimetic Behavior, and the Myth of Male Shyness," strikes a nerve in the collective unconscious, and suddenly the demure doctor is in demand: Oprah, Larry King, Regis and Kathie Lee, Geraldo, even her own Kevin Costner-obsessed boss, are all clamoring for a live appearance.
How will it all end? Will Jane's imposture be exposed? Is there a "fabulous nite of luv with Eddie" in her future? Will Ray see the error of his ways and crawl back to Jane begging forgiveness? Zigman offers no simple answers. Philosophies, like the New-Cow theory, may come and go, but where men are concerned, the first step to recovery is to memorize one simple phrase:
They will never make sense; you will never understand them.
When people say that love makes all things new again, they never talk about peeling. Peeling is that inexorable process that starts when all your romantic engines are humming, all signs are pointing straight ahead. That's when he -- it's always a he -- starts to unstick himself. Before you know it, he's peeling himself away from you as if he were a Random Acts of Kindness bumper sticker and you were some mobster's Lincoln. Your skin has a raw patch from where he used to be. He'll never tell you why.
That's what happens to Jane Goodall in Laura Zigman's first novel, Animal Husbandry, and Jane actually does something about it. She is not the famous Jane Goodall of primatology, but a TV producer whose passionate boyfriend proclaims every kind of believable love for her only to wake up one morning looking at her as if she were some kind of wart. After caving in to the common temptation to cry a lot and guzzle Jack Daniel's from the bottle, Jane hits the library to discover the cause of male amatory weirdness. Newly armed with such works as Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, she retires to her cramped bedroom, now dubbed the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Male Behavior, and proceeds to ferret out why bulls need variety and what the desire to replicate one's DNA has to do with her empty apartment and her broken heart.
First she must digest Old Cow/New Cow Theory and accept that however much her guy may have wanted her before, all men really want is a New Cow. Then, with more research, she has to deal with more troubling information: the least common denominators of human behavior (Darwin), the power of self-deception (Nietzsche) and the self-evidently sloppy evolution of desire. Hot on the trail of discovery, our heroine is as keen as an Eagle Scout, as she was the day she discovered the humiliating Coolidge Effect, which explains the male's need for variety. "I stared at the article," she reports. "My heart pounded. My breath became shallow. I started to sweat." Three percent of mammals pair-bond, she discovers. How can we go on?
Jane finds out something she never bargained for, which is that she has to dig impossibly deep, deeper than the biological origins of attraction, to find the roots of her own determination, and of that teasing human predisposition to not just love but to be known. This lighthearted treatment of her journey leaves you with a vague feeling of sadness -- the aftermath of the truest kind of comedy known to man and beast. --Salon Jan. 5, 1998