Published by Graywolf Press on October 4th 2016
Nine men. Each of them at a different stage in life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving--in the suburbs of Prague, in an overdeveloped Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a dingy Cyprus hotel--to understand what it means to be alive, here and now. Tracing a dramatic arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, the ostensibly separate narratives of All That Man Is aggregate into a picture of a single shared existence, a picture that interrogates the state of modern manhood while bringing to life, unforgettably, the physical and emotional terrain of an increasingly globalized Europe. And so these nine lives form an ingenious and new kind of novel, in which David Szalay expertly plots a dark predicament for the twenty-first-century man.
Dark and disturbing, but also often wickedly and uproariously comic, All That Man Is is notable for the acute psychological penetration Szalay brings to bear on his characters, from the working-class ex-grunt to the pompous college student, the middle-aged loser to the Russian oligarch. Steadily and mercilessly, as this brilliantly conceived book progresses, the protagonist at the center of each chapter is older than the last one, it gets colder out, and All That Man Is gathers exquisite power.
First, funny story about All That Man Is, I remembered hearing about it at BEA. When I saw it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, I remembered that and picked it up. Last night, I finished it and went to take the dead tree book into the study where the rest of the books are stored when what do I see in my BEA book pile? Yep. All That Man Is. I is very smart.
Anyway, this book was a slow read for me – then again everything has been slow reading for me lately, so the fact that I finished it at all is pretty high praise. Szalay does some beautiful things with his prose, it’s really quite transporting. I think what I enjoyed most about this book was how European it is. I was stationed in Europe for about three years and I went everywhere that I could. A lot of the locations in this book were familiar-ish to me and Szalay’s writing is so transporting it was a little like being back there. At times it’s less a book about aging and growing and more of a travelogue.
The form of All That Man Is is another thing that is worth talking about. I suppose the easiest way to categorize it is to describe it as thematically related short stories. Each story follows a man in a different point of his life, in this way All That Man Is can be compared to Forty Rooms (which is amazing, read it), in that it is an exploration of aging within a particular gender. Forty Rooms spoke to me more, this could be a function of being a woman, but All That Man Is is powerful as well. The one flaw of this book is probably the fact that all the stories focus around white, middle class to rich men so social justice readers may have a hard time with that aspect.
Regardless, this is an incredibly well written and thoughtful book. Check it out.