reading strange

by erin thursby
I hesitate to call Last Tango in Jacksonville a great book. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun reading it.
When reading a romance novel, I tend to put a book mark in where the “good parts” are. But with Last Tango I eventually found myself merely skimming the sex scenes. Perhaps it’s because they happen so frequently and go on for pages. But at least you know what you’re getting into from the beginning. By page 16 the word labia is used.
The main character, Paul Sommers, has to deal with his twin boys on his own after his wife walks out on him (with a guy, by the way, that she met in rehab). We aren’t meant to sympathize over-much with the alcoholic, sneering, neglectful mom and cheating wife, since her actions justify Paul starting a dirty, sordid “affair” with the wife’s best friend. The wife does find out about it, leading to a number of emotional train-wrecks that are oddly gratifying.
The hefty book 724 page book begins by establishing a rough pattern. Chapter vilifying ex-wife, chapter screwing ex-wife’s best friend. Rinse. Repeat. There’s a best male friend thrown in there, mainly to show us what a super guy Paul is.
Laura, the Jacksonvillian with whom Paul enjoys his sexual escapades, felt more like, to be blunt, a walking, talking blow up doll. When Paul compliments her it’s mainly to show what an awesome, sexy guy Paul is.
The guy’s a Marty Stu, that’s for certain. A Marty Stu, for those of you not into fan fic, is the male version of a Mary Sue. Everything in the story exists to illustrate how wonderful, humble and fantastic they are. If they have flaws, those flaws just further bring out the perfect in them- like a father getting stressed out about his responsibilities or a guy with not that much experience in the bedroom somehow scoring a threesome. Like most Sues, as Wikipedia states, the character “carries a connotation of wish-fulfillment and is commonly associated with self-insertion (the writing of oneself into a fictional story).”
After I slogged through 300-odd pages finding out how awesome Paul was, frequently rolling my eyes, I found out why he was so damn awesome! Apparently, these first 300 pages are the fictional Paul’s own “fictional” book manuscript that’s been rejected by publishers. In part two, you find out, through various fantasies, emails, scraps of scripts he’s written and transcripts of audio recordings what the “real” story is. I know that’s a major twist in the book and that I shouldn’t be spoiling it. But I feel that by revealing it, those first 300 pages might be more bearable and actually funny for those of you who might like to read it. Because some of what prevented me from laughing at first was that I spent more time asking “Is this for real? Does the guy writing this actually expect me to take this seriously?” than I did just enjoying the actual hilarity.
What I’m really hoping is that the author’s Facebook page is actually not real, that it’s another show-within-a-show. Because there are far too many parallels to the author William La Rue and the eventually insane Paul. A set of twin boys- check. An ex-wife or ex-someone who looks exactly like the description of the evil ex-wife in book- check. (The caption reads “Me and Maggie in happier times.” She’s even wearing the same style sunglasses as the fictional evil ex-wife). Paul has a vinyl to digital transfer business and the author wrote a note to us on the back of a card with his name on it, referencing the now defunct
According to the front flap disclaimer: “Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” But it feels a lot like self-aggrandizement. And in the end, that’s what’s fun about the book. Even before I checked out the author’s Facebook, reading it was eerily voyeuristic. If you’re from Jacksonville, it’s also interesting because you know these places. I admit I snickered a little when he called San Marco bohemian. The main characters also have sex different places in Jacksonville (and nearby). Even when they aren’t having sex, it seems like they are. Here’s an excerpt from their time listening to the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, which I firmly believe JSO should put in all their press releases: “He felt her muscles contract and her blood flow and shift with every pause, every crescendo, every climax. Even her scent changed.” They’re just holding hands, people. Minds out of the gutter!
Last Tango made me laugh a lot. Such is the author’s squirrely, elusive genius that I’m not sure if he intended this as a parody or if he is actually one fruit loop shy of a full bowl. Perhaps it’s both.