What She Saw in Roger Mancuso, Günter Hopstock, Jason Barry Gold
Reviewed by Amanda Eyre Ward, Fri., Sept. 22, 2000
What She Saw in Roger Mancuso, Günter Hopstock, Jason Barry Gold --A Novel
by Lucinda Rosenfeld
Random House, 284 pp., $23.95
This is a book about a ho and the men she sleeps with. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it. It's a book about a woman who is paralyzed by low self-esteem, crippled by anorexia, and taken advantage of on a daily basis. Which is not to say it isn't a fun read. Rosenfeld, a former nightlife columnist for the New York Post, seems to be confused about what she's trying to achieve with her first novel, which was excerpted in The New Yorker this summer, but creates a gripping coming-of-age story nonetheless.
Each chapter explores a different man in the life of Phoebe Fine, a girl from the New Jersey suburbs. There's Roger "Stinky" Mancuso, the fifth-grade rebel without a cause who teaches Phoebe about "boys who were kissing you one minute and were gone the next." There's Spitty Clark (my favorite), who shows up at Phoebe's freshman dorm room wearing a T-shirt that reads WHATEVER THE LETTER, GREEKS DO IT BETTER on the front and KAPPA OMEGA, SAN
JUAN NIGHT '87 on the back. When Phoebe introduces herself, Spitty cheerily says, "It's a pleasure to make your blood-alcohol content rise." There's "Semester-Abroad" Claude, and Humphrey Fung, who is trying as hard as Phoebe to find himself but "had yet to identify a subculture that met the needs of his own anomie. He'd tried them all -- Goth, punk, surf-punk, skinhead, sk8 (skateboarding), D&D (Dungeons and Dragons), SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), and just plain 'A,' as in Anarchy."
After a disastrous relationship with a married professor ("He couldn't get enough of watching TV. Sometimes they watched sitcoms while they had sex. Maybe it doesn't sound that romantic. It was to Phoebe"), a man named Neil Schmertz brings Phoebe happiness for a time: "Endearing nicknames changed from week to week. 'Coolio' became 'Carlos,' which became 'Julio,' which became 'Wubble,' which became 'Booboo,' which became 'Looboo,' which eventually became 'Wooboo,' for reasons that were never entirely clear."
Each affair is gleefully recounted, each heartbreak mercilessly picked apart. But in creating opportunities for readers to laugh at Phoebe, Rosenfeld makes her increasingly unsympathetic. Phoebe is bohemian, but simply because it's trendy. She uses her female friends to fill the time between affairs. She makes fun of everyone: Her parents seem ridiculous to her, and her sister is only annoying. But Rosenfeld makes Phoebe ridiculous as well, and by making her main character a joke and her love affairs pathetic, Rosenfeld keeps readers from truly being touched by her story. By the end of the novel, we may know more about what Phoebe saw in her list of lovers. What we don't understand is what they saw in her.