Love takes a left turn

review of The Womanizer by Rick Salutin, publisher: Doubleday Canada

by Moe Berg, Edmonton Journal, October 27, 2002

Playwright and author Rick Salutin is one of Canada's most popular and intelligent columnists. Which means that his new book has already garnered a fair amount of attention, not all of it favourable. Much has been made of one of the country's leading liberal voices writing a novel called The Womanizer. However, as Salutin alludes to in the book, politics is mainly about ideas -- ideas which may or may not be consistent with the person voicing them. Max, like Salutin himself, is a lefty though not -- forgive the expression -- a strident one. He eschews the banalities of garden-variety Marxism and, instead, is more accurately an intellectual.

After a repressed adolescence, Max becomes a freelance economist and self-proclaimed womanizer, often using the former to enable the latter. "He felt grubby when he did that," we read, as Max uses his knowledge of Innis and the staple thesis to "pry his way into the affections of a Cyndi."

Early on in the book, Salutin's liberalism is almost his undoing. Gingerly hedging his bets, Salutin spends so much time rationalizing and explaining every thought in Max's head that readers can be forgiven for hoping he will simply get on with it.

Eventually, Salutin settles into his tale, as does the reader. Unlike, say, early Phillip Roth characters, Max doesn't denigrate his conquests. He is grateful for their complicity. Perhaps it's that he is careful in choosing his partners. They are often lefties and they and Max engage in post-coital chats about stagflation and Keynes. The author's device of allowing Max's women to give their side of the story is a good one and these interludes provide some minor insight. These women do not hate Max. Most of them speak quite favourably about him.

However, this points to the book's major blemish, which is the lack of emotional content. With the exception of Francine's violent post-breakup turn, there is a distinct lack of passion in these affairs. People up and leave (usually Max), without a lot of drama, and the odd time he is dumped for another man, he tells rather than shows how hurt he is. Fortunately, that is not enough to scuttle The Womanizer. We read on.

The reasons for Max's womanizing are ponderables. But clearly, his greatest flaw is that he refuses to grow up. He yells and hits, he is possessive, refuses to get a "real" job and, obviously, will not commit. He won't even commit to being a leftist.

Max does eventually change (a bit) though likely not enough for some readers. However, those who think Max should have to pay for, or repent, his sins, don't understand this book. Max doesn't think he's done anything wrong and we must at least consider the possibility that he hasn't.

Paunchy and fashion-challenged Max is no loveable Casanova or Don Juan. But, much to the surprise and chagrin of The Womanizer's detractors, characters like Max do exist. In fact, they are at least as common as the tall, dark and handsome cliche of the ladies man. Since it has been widely speculated that The Womanizer is somewhat autobiographical, credit Salutin for having the courage to reveal such an unlikable hero.

©Copyright 2002 CanWest Global Communications Corp.

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