Paul Cohen’s debut novel, Glamshack, is a gritty, sensual journey through a man’s obsession with a woman, and her fiance.
The object of Henry’s obsession, a woman referred to only as Her and She, is almost pure male fantasy: dripping with sex, full of manic energy and childlike imaginativeness. She feeds Henry raw tuna out of a can with her hands and playfully poses as other people in public, adopting a Southern accent to get served at a closed restaurant.
Slow to unfold, but fairly fast-moving once you get past the first few chapters, Glamshack dives into Henry’s psyche. Narrated in the second person, Henry attempts to explain how he became the way he is, how his obsessive desire began, weaving his tale into beautifully constructed sentences. Cohen’s language throughout is gorgeous. He captures the essence of pure, raw, unfiltered desire in ways reminiscent of Nabokov’s playful-but-dark Humbert Humbert in Lolita.
The book feels really male gaze-y, but through Henry’s self-awareness of disgusting male behavior, Cohen deconstructs some of those precepts.Henry is a fashion journalist., entrenched in a very sexist industry. Almost none of the female characters are named in the book, seeming at times more like a collection of body parts than people. At one point, an assistant in his office is described only as “sexy, chubby and blond.” Henry imagines her wearing a name tag with only those three words on it. AZ, Henry’s boss, encourages him to ask her out, but the Conquistador, who owns the magazine where they work, reveals that he is “putting it to her.” She has already been claimed by another man.
Ownership of women’s bodies is a major theme in this book: Henry can’t let go of the idea that his girlfriend has another man in her life. Henry is not quite entirely unlikeable, but he’s sort of a jerk, a cocksure Wolves of Wall Street type. He believes that he deserves Her, all to himself, and the idea that she might be happy with any other man drives him crazy. Glamshack is an uncomfortable read, especially for women, but fans of gritty, dark dramas will appreciate this book.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.