Sleep With Me

Former New York Times–man seeks to become a confident playa. So why does his book seem so desperate?

Had Neil Strauss ended The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-Up Artists (ReganBooks, $28.95) after 146 pages, he'd have a wickedly economical book that's impossible to put down. Had it ended after 205 pages, it'd still qualify as a truly engrossing chronicle of a fascinating, misogynistic subculture of freaks and geeks who trade in their anime porn and eight-sided die for platform boots, feather boas, and dumb, hot chicks whom they manipulate through a labyrinth of head games that's extensively calibrated and hilariously termed (the glossary may be the 10 most entertaining pages). But because Strauss drags The Game out to 437 pages, the book morphs into a grating, narcissistic Fight Club knockoff in which Strauss clumsily elevates his role from supporting playa to a sexual superstar who arrogantly proclaims, "I was no longer in the game to meet women; I was in the game to lead men." Gone is the likably self-deprecating journalist/nerd who can count the amount of lays he's had in his life on six fingers. Once he's elevated into the PUA (pickup artist) fellowship's hierarchy, he—and the book—become insufferable. Novice PUAs start shaving their heads and wearing goatees, eyeliner, and frilly shirts to mimic Strauss' signature "peacock" look. This all goes straight to Strauss' noggin, and The Game goes south. That's a shame, because at the journalistically adroit outset of The Game, Strauss discovers a ruthless collection of sexual self-help gurus and pupils whose tactics border on date rape. Let's say a "sarger" (he whose sole purpose is to "sarge," or pick up chicks) walks into a bar and runs a "yes ladder" routine—a series of basic questions designed to elicit positive answers—on an attractive gal before identifying her "trance words" and changing locales for a little "time distortion." Over a quiet supper, he puts her in a state of waking hypnosis through a little NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming. Then he takes her home, fucks her, snaps his fingers, and calls her a cab before she realizes the depth of what's actually transpired. Is that really consensual? This is where Strauss might have developed The Game into a serious morality study. But you go to press with the book you have, not the book you need. And, lest we forget, Strauss is a guy who willingly chucked his New York Times perch to pen celebrity blow jobs for Rolling Stone and ghostwrite books for porn star Jenna Jameson and Dave Navarro. In short, Strauss is an unabashed starfucker, and the remainder of his book merely chronicles his attempt to transform himself into a trash-pop literary stud along the lines of Bret Easton Ellis. He brags about his conquests like a second-grader who just found out what the word "boner" means. After he shares the news of cadging his first ménage à trois via "dual induction massage," Strauss claims "PUAs all over the world started having threesomes" after initiating rubdowns of their purported harems of bi-curious ladies. How does Strauss verify this? He doesn't, really. He just takes similar accounts posted on Web sites at face value. Whether you believe these "field reports"—or, for that matter, Strauss' own sexual exploits—depends on whether you believe Penthouse Forum is the real deal or written by hired hands. I don't doubt that Strauss and his boys "number closed" (i.e., collected phone numbers) on a fair amount of club-hopping floozies. But he only seems to have "f-closed" a couple chicks, including a 19-year-old single mother who works at a Toronto Hooters. (Afterward, he's forced to baby-sit her son.) I suspect he and his PUA brethren—like Steve Carell's buddies in The 40-Year-Old Virgin—are prone to exaggerate the number of their conquests. But then, The Game is not about women; it's about men. (When Strauss and his PUA buddies rent a Hollywood Hills mansion and sit together in the Jacuzzi sipping watermelon-based cocktails, he declares, "There were no girls, and we didn't need any to validate us. Tonight, it was just the boys.") And like a lot of guys intrigued enough to read his book, my reaction was, Sorry, Neil, you can't sarge me.

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