Review by E. Kirshe
Reading a book like Any Man is a test of endurance. It’s harsh in many of the right ways, the subject matter hard to swallow, the descriptions rough and raw, and has characters real enough to be heartbreaking. There is no denying Amber Tamblyn’s skill and creativity- the book is experimentally formatted using prose, poetry, tweets, and negative space to tell the story. The moral, however, is one I keep feeling I’ve missed the point of.
Any Man is told from the point of view of the male survivors of a vicious female serial rapist.
Broken down, it’s a well done story. The points Tamblyn makes about American sensationalist culture, our treatment of rape survivors, overall rape culture and even our notions of who can be a victim are all solid.
The survivors all have to deal with the disbelief thrown at them that a man can even be raped. They also need to deal with the media speculating endlessly about them as people, as victims, what part they played in their own attack. The victims are shamed and even ridiculed- the aftermath unleashes a whole new hell after the initial crime. And that’s just the outside forces; the characters are also faced with shame and fear and feelings of disgust with themselves.
Tamblyn’s depictions of the aftermath and survival of trauma are beautifully done. Tamblyn fully and honestly details the minds of different survivors without pulling punches. The support the survivors find with each other, the inability to get over what was done to them, the hopelessness they feel at the loss of their own agency even before getting into the brutality of the crime, the subsequent healing process, all of this is woven well into the threads of a rather short book. Tamblyn has so many absolutely brutal scenes there are parts of the book that feel like a genuine oasis with gorgeous imagery and detail and life. Her writing is always poetic, her characters’ inner turmoil feels real.
The point that I miss is who is this for? People who don’t believe women can be vicious and men can be violated? The ‘men can’t be raped’ crowd do exist, but I’m not sure they’re reading books like this. People believe in the viciousness of women it’s just not posited as a strength- the kind that can physically overpower a man. That’s why the mythical status the rapist, Maude, reaches in Any Man is appropriate and so well done, but again, who is this for?
Is it for men to be more empathetic towards rape victims since this time they are the ones being brutalized? Sadly, a tactic that may work, any man will cross his legs as he reads the first few pages of Tamblyn’s words.
Yet another issue for me- Any Man is the sex reversal of a problem that as of yet isn’t even fully acknowledged outside of specific circles. You want to play with these lines? She ‘must’ve wanted it’ translating to ‘He must’ve’? We don’t have a culture that collectively believes we say this about She every. time. People who read this book who don’t already believe this are unlikely to learn- they’ll roll their eyes at what they perceive to be hyperbolic examples of victim treatment just as they do in real life.
You have to be in the know to even understand what real-life tropes Tamblyn’s playing off of and if you are then this book is only preaching to the choir.
Tamblyn is a fantastic writer and that’s why this review is so mixed. Tamblyn understands her subject matter so well which makes this book work in a lot of ways, if it wasn’t as deeply empathetic as it is Any Man would be worthless. And maybe that alone makes it a read you should take the time for this summer. Books don’t need to be teachable for a reader to get something out of it and they often do when reading something that helps them in some way. Give to people you think need to hear what Tamblyn’s saying. However, it also seems to be written for people who already know.
Any Man will be released June 26th by Harper Perennial
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.