I often found this book beguiling, and moving. There is always the temptation, in writing about sex, to sound superior, arch, immune to its power. But Shields writes from a place of genuine curiosity and confusion. He is ridiculous and brave, he never conflates sincerity with genuine candor, and he poses the kinds of questions that only ever bring trouble (and are the only kind worth reading about).” Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
“By book’s end, we realize that Shields himself is a collage, coming to us in bits and pieces, slipping in and out of the words of others, offering up questions but few answers, forcing us to read between the lines. Many men operate this way, elusive, mute, masked. But Shields wants to be unmasked, to be real even if that means appearing weak or ugly. . . Shields’s brave honesty stands alone.” Sibbie O’Sullivan, The Washington Post
“Some books you hope will never end. This wasn’t one of those. Some books you wish you never began reading. This wasn’t one of those either. ‘Do you love this book? Do you hate it?’ you ask in the closing pages. Yes, I do. . . . It isn’t the book’s toxic masculinity I hate. Masculinity is most toxic when it’s in denial. Your book denies nothing. It’s the fidelity of the mirror that it offers to a reader like me: that’s what I love and hate. . . . Your book is an invitation: shall we be companions in misery? Of course some readers won’t accept the invitation, but I suspect that is their loss. The Trouble with Men is not for polite company, but the company that actually sustain us is rarely polite since it turns on being frank.” John Kaag, Los Angeles Review of Books
“In the best Rousseauesque tradition of confessionalism, the person most shamingly exposed is the author. It’s brave of Shields to parade himself as cravenly as he does, and he covers a lot of ground along the way. . . . What gives the book its frisson is the sound of an intellectual talking dirty. High/low; private/public: the demarcations disappear. Above all, there’s his curiosity and his openness.” Blake Morrison, The Guardian
“David Shields’s new collection of essays, The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power, is a blistering and brilliant quintet of reportage and observations from the forefront of the five parts of our lives suggested by its subtitle. . . . The confessional explosions that play themselves out in this book are equal parts terrifying, edifying, and beautifully troubling. . . . The Trouble with Men is a difficult book to embrace, a problematic book to pin down, but that’s the point. Shields might be a literary boxer, jabbing at us as we try to spar with him, a tender shot to the kidney or a harsh connection to the jaw, but at times he’s also a master patchwork quilt artist. . . . Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power are the eternal quintet that has burdened and uplifted us, and in the masterful hands of David Shields they’re illuminated in a dangerous, brilliant, eternal light.” Christopher John Stephens, PopMatters
“In this bold mixture of stark honesty and humor, Shields . . . ponders how sex, love, attraction, and power all coalesce to both fortify and complicate the human mating experience. . . . Entertaining and contemplative, Shields offers focused philosophy and effervescent wisdom on some of society’s knottiest topics.” Kirkus Reviews
“Shields does all this using his trademark technique of appropriating and collaging text from other writers, including himself, and laying it out in a way that creates a new form of narrative, one that is both unfailingly personal and yet still manages to render everythingthe reader includeda part of everything else. Which is both sobering and electrifying.” Cathy Alter, Guernica
“David Shields is one of the most interesting people around at the moment. . . . [He has written] a tender yet deeply unsettling book on sex and marriage. The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power can be read during one extended session in the bathtub, but the repercussions from Shields’s collage of ideas feel like a thunderclap. . . . [I]t burns down into your deepest and darkest places and remains there like wasabi for the soul.”Dorothy Woodend, Tyee
The provocative essayist contemplates the precarious mechanics of human intimacy.
In this bold mixture of stark honesty and humor, Shields (Other People: Takes & Mistakes, 2017, etc.) ponders how sex, love, attraction, and power all coalesce to both fortify and complicate the human mating experience. Snippets and subdivisions of thought, critiques, and inspired scenarios abound as the author's entertaining musings range from confessional—he unmasks facets of his own marriage and imagines a love letter to his wife or a novel about their exchange of sexual fantasies—to examinations of oddities and taboo aspects of sexuality. The author explores intimate relationships through personal examples and experiences as well as copious references and allusions (presented in a collage style similar to that of the author's Reality Hunger) drawn from a spectrum of well-respected writers, poets, journalists, and medical professionals; most reinforce Shields' ideas and assessments and add zesty commentary to an already fiery topic. The book is separated into five sections, each one progressively more explicit. An introductory chapter of bite-sized observations on human togetherness as seen through the lens of popular culture heralds further introspections on the author's own emotional landscape. Personal anecdotes on his awkward adolescence and family life and scenes of both romantic love and explicit sex interweave with outtakes from an ensemble of opinionated voices—e.g., utterances from a pre-presidential Donald Trump and a piece by sexologist Pepper Schwartz that psychoanalyzes Bernie Madoff's behavior. In the opening pages of a graphically descriptive chapter on sexual fantasy and pornography ("the world's one true religion"), Shields asks, "is sex really that awful?" The answer, found in a dizzying array of explicit and racy perspectives, will depend on the reader's reactions to the author's revealing adventures, each buttressed by a supporting chorus of sex-positive cheerleaders and damning naysayers. Entertaining and contemplative, Shields offers focused philosophy and effervescent wisdom on some of society's knottiest topics.
A sharp-eyed collection of bits and pieces that will appeal, at least in part, to readers on both hot and cold sides of the intimacy spectrum.