This novel by Chad Kultgen reminds me more than any other book of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. The main difference is that The Average American Male is simply more honest about the way young guys think about sex. I’m sure just about every guy who reads The Average American Male starts cracking up almost immediately because he relates to the way the narrator’s mind works, mentally undressing every attractive female he sees and imagining raunchy sex acts. It may be a slight exaggeration of the “average” American male’s mind—granted: most men don’t masturbate ten times a day—but the mental activity itself is not that far from average. This really is how guys think, all guys—I suspect even gay guys think like this, except that their fantasies are about men instead of women.
In Catcher in the Rye, Salinger’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a great example of an alienated, isolated adolescent, directionless in his life, sporadic in his decision-making, and totally confused about his place in the world. But at seventeen, Holden Caulfield never has an erotic fantasy. He’s never horny. He never masturbates. Even in the scene where he gets a prostitute into his room, he has no sexual inclination. He starts to relate to her as a person almost immediately and this kills any desire he may have had. This is not the way a teenage boy’s mind works.
I was a teenager when I first read Catcher in the Rye and I loved the book. It totally absorbed me. Holden reminded me so much of my cousin Karl who had been placed in a military academy by his parents, then ran away from the school and took a bus to my parents’ house (in another state!) on a whim, as he didn’t know where else to go. Holden Caulfield reminded me of myself a hundred times, except that he had virtually no libido at a time in his life when adolescent boys are nothing but a mass of raging hormones. When Salinger wrote the book in 1951, it would never have been published—and if it had, certainly would not have been regarded as “literature”—had Salinger dared to delve into the real thinking of an American boy. Chad Kultchen is simply more honest in his portrayal.
What’s crazy is that even in 2007 (when the book was first published), Kultgen’s novel was roundly criticized by many feminists (both female and male) for its “misogyny” and over-the-top “pornographic” passages. In fact, the novel is entirely nonpornographic. It’s absolute realism. There is no scene in the book that anyone would ever call “erotic.” There is no scene written in a way to turn anyone on, nothing that would appeal to anyone’s prurient interest. Fifty Shades of Grey is 500 times more pornographic than The Average American Male.
Kultgen’s unnamed protagonist, unlike Holden Caulfield, is not a teenager. He’s in his late twenties. But all guys know that they never really get out of adolescence, and if they do, it’s certainly not before they settle down and have kids and enter the rat race to the extent that the reality of survival beats their libido into submission. Kultgen’s protagonist—who spends all of his time playing video games, masturbating to Internet porn, and hanging out at the local mall—may be closing in on thirty, but mentally and emotionally he’s closer to thirteen and this novel is—like Catcher in the Rye—a coming of age novel.
I have read Kultgen’s second novel, The Lie, which I also liked, though I have not yet read his more recently published (2011) Men, Women, and Children. I will review both of these books in the future. But I absolutely love The Average American Male. I suspect it will be recognized as a literary masterpiece at some point in the future and it will be the novel that Chad Kultgen will be remembered for.