DARRYL PONICSAN, Delacorte, $9.95
That men (and women, too, naturally) are products of their environment is a fact we should all know by now, but Burt Avedon's Ah, Men! goes into pedantic detail on the subject, using a few of his own thoughts but mostly those of a rather notable group, including Ashley Montagu, Helen Gurley Brown, Sterling Hayden, Gore Vidal, Michael Korda, George Plimpton, et al., in this dry, humorless tome. There are chapters on Growing Up, Work, Goals and Sex, and the quotes run from the noble (Plimpton: "I went to an English school in New York where we were taught that the good life was not simply a question of winning, but rather of doing the best you can -- and to learn to have fun, and compassion, and be gentlemanly about losing.") to the ludicrous (Korda: "...That is the nature of the Human Animal, right? I mean your own father, if he could find a way of cheating you in business, probably would...That's the way people are. I don't think you can beat that."). Dull as it is, Ah, Men is admittedly informative, especially in the area of men's attitudes toward relationships.
One man's attitude is explored in Ponicsan's novel An Unmarried Man. Ben Pleasants, a woodcarver who has a smidgen of fame due to his profile in People magazine, jilts his wife because he wants to really fall in love at least once before he dies. So he moves out on spouse and daughter, 8, and, sure enough, Lupe, the woman he's been waiting for, conveniently moves into the apartment over his new abode. This infuriates his ex-wife, who then demands almost everything they've owned, down to his last unworked hunk of wood, which he fashions into a copy of his phallus before he surrenders it to her. The book's few strengths (the father-daughter conversations are well handled, the scenes with the divorce lawyers are vivid) are undermined by the seemingly endless barrage of cliched dialogue and boringly explicit sexuality with none of the grit of Ponicsan's earlier work like Cinderella Liberty and The Last Detail. In the end, Unmarried is tiresome, and worse, unimportant.