I wanted to love this book! I consider Freaks and Geeks to be one of the best things that ever happened on television. And yet this book was so problematic for me. How, you might wonder, could you mess up a book about how awkward you were as a horny teenager?
First of all, it's really hard to sell an antihero. Adult Feig is aware of just how much of a loser teenage Feig was, and he still has to write a whole book about him that people will want to read. For me, he fell short of this goal. The book was amusing, but teenage Feig was not a charming person, and so the book lacked charm. So, whenever he criticized someone other than himself, it got really iffy for me. I knew it was for comedic effect, but every time he tooks a break from describing his own painfully nerdy self to write about a flaw in a fellow teenager (also, it was the 80s), it jarred. He gives us exactly zero reasons for why anyone would want to date teenage Feig, and at the same time he makes every story about how much he wants to date the most beautiful girls in his life and how disappointed he is that they don't want feel the same way about him. The incongruity is supposed to be funny, but it's a tough read when you find yourself sympathizing with the beautiful but unattainable girls and the deeply flawed but game girls and not with Feig.
The book bounces between "look how hopelessly awkward I was" and "I was such a Nice Guy I was willing to put up with how badly girls were treating me". But he wasn't a nice guy. He wanted to date the girls he pursued because she was so popular he knew everyone would think he was an amazing guy and be sooooo jealous, or she had bigger breasts than all the other girls in school, or she was beautiful and/or his "type". Each time, he is completely focused on what he will get out of the relationship and completely oblivious to what the girl in question might be thinking or feeling. Each of them has something he wants, and he is frustrated because he can't get it from her. At the same time, he seems to believe that all she needs to be fulfilled by a relationship is superficial gifts. So he has nothing meaningful to offer her, and yet the theme continues to be poor Paul just can't catch a break.
Part of the premise of this book is that he just doesn't know what girls really want, because GIRLS, amiright? I'm going to posit that it's not that difficult to figure girls out, but you do have to assume that they have feelings and desires for things other than red roses, concert tickets, and dinners at expensive restaurants. I know teenage Feig thinks he can buy meaningful, loving companionship with flashy dates, but I wanted the book to acknowledge that this belief was part of his teenage folly. Instead, we come away with his puzzlement over his failures intact. Frustrating.
I think most of the book's problems would have been solved if adult Feig had shown more compassion for the girls teenage Feig inflicted himself upon. He could have tried to see what it must have been like for them to date teenage Feig, but instead he gives us ugly shoes, or worst kisser ever, or too sexually aggressive, or toyed with his emotions. Yes, teenage Feig wanted to effortlessly walk into some sort of cheesy Hallmark movie romance, but adult Feig should know that teenage Feig had no right to be disappointed that these girls were just as flawed as he was. Instead, it feels like he has forgiven himself, but not them.
Late in the book, Feig comes close to a revelation he has finally realized that Maura is never going to date him. He writes, "I tried to feel mad at her for the rest of the trip, but I just didn't have the energy. And I realized that I didn't have a good case against her. After all, she hadn't lied to me when she told me at the end of the summer that she'd be there when I got back. She indeed was there when I returned, and thanks to her presence, I ended up eating a food-poisoned hoagie from a place I would never have gone to if she hadn't invited me to go there in the first place. But it was my fault for never asking her point-blank at any time during the past four months if she had any real feelings for me and, more important, if she had any intentions of ever breaking up with Matt. I chose, as always, to avoid hearing anything potentially negative, hoping that everything would work itself out with no effort on my behalf whatsoever. And, of course, it didn't. When does it ever? If you want something in life, you have to at least expend a little energy and inquiry on it, right? [p. 249]"
He's on the verge of insight, finally willing to see his failures as more than just tough breaks, as something he may have contributed to. But his passive-aggressive lashing out at the girl in question shows he still hasn't forgiven her (come on, she did not deliberately arrange the get-together at a sandwich shop with salmonella issues). He was messed up, and he got treated badly, but it never occurs to him to ask what might have been going on with Maura to make her so cruel. It literally never occurs to him that she was also messed up, or that she had similar issues. The whole book consists of Paul wanting sex, and girls not giving it to him the way he wants. He never stops to think what sex means to them. So it never occurs to him that Nicole's sexual aggressiveness might be her form of concert tickets or expensive dinners, that she mistakenly thinks he expects that from her in exchange for companionship, or that she just has really messed-up ideas about boys. It's just so one-sided.
Like I said, antiheroes are difficult characters to pull off.
In the end, he is redeemed by getting married. That's it. He doesn't learn about his own intentions and their effect on the people he is trying to date. He gets better at the sex, but he doesn't tell us he got any better at relating. In effect, he just eventually catches his break. I'm happy it worked out for him, and I'm happy he can laugh at his teenage self. I wish I felt like he was a better person for all his experiences, but I don't.