My Old Man
Sometimes it pays to sleep with the wrong person. So we learn from Amy Sohn’s raunchy, darkly comic second novel, My Old Man. Twenty-six-year-old Rachel Block, guilt-ridden from dropping out of rabbinical college, starts bartending at a local dive and takes up with a boorish 51-year-old screenwriter, Hank Powell. To herself and those around her, Block seems locked into a downward spiral, but Sohn illustrates well how change takes the guise of dissolution.
Sohn is the New York magazine columnist for all matters love, sex, and romance (she got her start at Russ Smith’s New York Press). And, in its beefy magazine-styled paragraphs, My Old Man brims with pop-culture references and commentary about single life in the big city. “Stan was not a name pulsing with sexuality and promise. Stan was the name of Dorothy’s ex on The Golden Girls,” observes Block, critiquing a suitor.
Sohn is spot-on with many observations, but the true power of My Old Man lies in her carefully observed characters, who are both unique and archetypal. Despite his advanced years, Powell is an emotional retard, hiding an unrelenting selfishness beneath hipster posturing, bullshit Jungian pontifications, and macho bravado. “I have a very strong connection with my nature and when it tells me not to do something I have to listen,” he tells Block, explaining postcoitally why he doesn’t want her to spend the night.
Block herself remains willfully oblivious to the fact that Powell regards her as little more than a piece of tail. In a sense, it doesn’t matter to her. He is useful in that he pushes her into unknown territory. Through Powell, she re-evaluates more considerate ex-boyfriends and one-time chance encounters who she comes to understand were equally wrong for her. Her affair with Powell also touches off an improbable chain of events that involves Block’s upstairs neighbor and her parents. That Block can only stand by helpless as her world collapses only adds to the novel’s apparent comedic cruelty.
My Old Man does not mince sexual descriptions, which is just dandy given that too many fiction authors even today are still too clumsy with the matter. The book does veer close to lapsing into a series of vignettes about the vulgarities of sleeping around, though. (Do any of Sohn’s characters have hobbies besides hooking up?) Nonetheless, Sohn offers a powerful message: that sexual energy can be a catalyst for major—and sorely needed—change. Just read this book before all the pop-culture references stale.