Book Review: Anthropology’s 101 True Love Stories

If this is a cultural study of a tribe, it’s a tribe with one cuckolded male and 101 beautiful women, virtually all of whom treat his heart with the sentimentality of an ashtray. This collection of 101-word stories chronicles so much dumping that by page six I had to bat away the seagulls. Do I pity this putz, or whatever the British equivalent of a putz is? Not really. Neither do I get a sense of what he brings to the table or how exactly he wins this bevy of beauties.

And trust me, he spends ample time rhapsodizing on their fetching good looks. Lipstick on their perfect lips, the lustre of their hair or who looks good in what uniform. He seems to have a real affinity for uniforms—in a way that makes it easy enough to imagine him dancing with their hollow casings when he finds himself home alone.

This curious tribe, apart from our nameless and hapless hero (I use the term reluctantly and rather generously), comes with a flurry of exotic monikers: Lulula, Foxglove, Running Water, Iolanthe, Treasure, and Sundial. Although it’s never uttered, I suspect our hero’s name is Fred, Harold, or something equally benign and libido quashing.

Echoing shades of Groundhog Day, our hero wakes to a new day of being dumped in a spectacular fashion. Dumped by the anthropologist gone Leather Daddy in Mongolia, by Tabitha who craves intellectual stimulation, Running Water who needs time for herself. Some of these gorgeous creatures have exquisite timing, delivering their bad news on Valentine’s Day, conveniently after he’s repaired their tractor or in the midst of an innocuous board game.

The ones that don’t dump him die, I suspect only before they get the chance. Of course, he is not so crass a creature that he doesn’t mourn their loss. He mourns it right up until he meets another woman at the funeral, where he is hushed as their frolicking disturbs the other mourners. (Come on! Funeral Etiquette 101:  if you want to make out with your new squeeze, you sneak into the embalming room. Everybody knows that.) Or in the tragic case of Columbine (the name of yet another beauty, not the flower nor the school shooting), when he takes her to be stuffed after her death, there’s a mix-up and he gets the wrong woman back, but doesn’t mind terribly because she’s pretty.

Did I mention some of his stories are dark? With occasional cautious shades of racism and a whole lot of women being objectified? Check out “Sushi” if you don’t believe me. Even if our hero makes himself the brunt of every joke, emasculated by their taunts and behaviors, if the only way he can present women, the only way he sees them, is solely by their surface, there will be no pity from me.

I will concede, however, that Mr. Rhodes does manage to give us some incredibly funny lines. So read with caution as you may find yourself snorting, guffawing (whatever that is exactly), and even rolling on the floor laughing … well, you get the idea. I think this sampling gives a nice sense of his twisted brand of humor.

– He suspects no name girlfriend has started drinking again and asks her about the empties he finds. “I used it as make-up remover.”  “All eighteen litres?”

– On the night before he is to wed another, she comes clean about her three ugly children. “Come and meet your new daddy.” “Their faces were covered in jam. They were horrible.”

– Trying to construct a perfect first kiss with Orchid (!), they try Paris. Not romantic enough. Fine, the Bahamas then. Ditto. Finally, that architectural monument to love itself … the Taj Mahal. “It smells, and there’s poor people everywhere.”

– The nameless girlfriend who names their baby Lesbian. “It’s such a pretty name.” “Don’t you know what it means?” He explains; she cries. “I didn’t know there were ladies who did that to each other.”

These stories essentially read as “guy walks into a bar” jokes, if every time the guy walked into the bar the bartender broke up with him. Sure, there are punchlines, but one gets the sense that they came first, everything else crafted around them.

Would I urge you to read this book? That depends. Did you get it for free in a Christmas stocking? Or find it in a bus station? Then by all means, yes. But if you must walk to a bookstore, endure chilly temperatures and high winds or incur shipping costs, I would say your money is better spent on a second copy of High Fidelity.

Andrea Daniels reads in bookstores until glared at, can never seem to finish a jar of peanut butter, and enjoys folding still warm laundry. (Editor’s note: Read Andrea’s wonderful, challenging, surprising 100-word stories.)

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