Friday, August 20, 2010
The Body Shop: A Review
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by Hachette Books for review. The views expressed here are honest and are in no way influenced by the author or the publishers.
As a scrawny college freshman in the mid-1970s, just before Arnold Schwarzenegger became a hero to boys everywhere and Pumping Iron became a cult hit, Paul Solotaroff discovered weights and steroids. In a matter of months, he grew from a dorky beanpole into a hulking behemoth, showing off his rock hard muscles first on the streets of New York City and then alongside his colorful gym-rat friends in strip clubs and in the homes of the gotham elite. It was a swinging time, when "Would you like to dance?" turned into "Your place or mine?" and the guys with the muscles had all the ladies--until their bodies, like Solotaroff''s, completely shut down.
But this isn't the gloom-and-doom addiction one might expect--Solotaroff looks back at even his lowest points with a wicked sense of humor, and he sends up the disco era and its excess with all the kaleidoscopic detail of Boogie Nights or Saturday Night Fever.
Written with candor and sarcasm, THE BODY SHOP is a memoir with all the elements of great fiction and dazzlingly displays Paul Solotaroff's celebrated writing talent.
Admittedly, I went into this book with some preconceived notions about it. One look at the over confirmed a few of them but I was also afraid that the book was going to be overly macho for me to enjoy it. Boy was I wrong! Ideally, The Body Shop can be described as a look into the male psyche in the late 1970’s. Research (and also detailed analysis in the book) suggests that this was the age of the body builders; spawned by Arnold Schwarzenegger, when men strutted around with huge biceps and abs that you could watch water ripple off of. Image meant everything (and still does) and a thirst for recognition meant that you were covering up some hideous, unloved and most times neglected part of your childhood. It is under these circumstances that we are introduced to Paul and his years as a lifter and a juicer.
The Body Shop is a memoir that often reads like a dramady with colorful characters, complicated situations and some truly comedic dialogue. I guess you can hardly call it a laughing matter when one finds them self using illegal drugs and dancing for a living but Paul brings across these passages in his life without shame or regret. I could tell that they were stepping stones towards figuring out who he really was. Yet still, you can’t help but laugh out loud or gasp at the kind of situations that Paul finds himself in or the people he meets along the way.
Interestingly enough, Paul is a literature major and this really showed in the book. Though at times he was a bit sarcastic (which probably is a Paul thing) he was able to vividly recreate the mood and the machismo culture that pervaded the late 1970’s. His work in establishing the characters such as Angel, Tommy and Spiro is also commendable. I enjoyed getting to know them and watching their individual stories come to life.
Hinged to the story is Paul’s strained relationship with his parents in particular his father (sadly this is the case with all of the main characters). Though there is still love between them I could tell that they had quite a few unresolved issues. Paul attempts to resolve this closer to the end of the book but after their experiences together; I couldn’t help but wonder how their relationship is currently. On a lighter note it was pretty cool learning about Paul’s dad being a professional reviewer and editor. I got a glimpse into the world that we book bloggers dabble in as a past time. The unpredictability of the job and the incessant writer’s block that sometimes attacked him seemed all too familiar.
All and all, don’t let the macho nature of this book put you off. You’d be missing a really good story if you do.
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