Monday, July 28, 2014

American Savage: Savage Words

When it comes to advice on sex, marriage, monogamy, and politics, Dan Savage approaches each subject with equal parts vigor and venom. American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics is a caustic series of essays Savage uses to assault perceptions and throw a light on mundane gay life. One could call the essays biting commentary but that would be a misnomer. Biting involves a catch-and-release type of activity. Savage chews on his subjects, savoring every opportunity for salacious commentary.

For over two decades Dan Savage has written the Savage Love advice column. Fans of the column will be right at home reading American Savage, which has the column’s confrontational, confessional style running through each essay. Savage delights in dirty talk, flinging around foul language like a cross between a Teamster and your gay uncle who doesn’t give a damn if the breeders don’t like him. Savage is prone to repeating himself, which does make some of the essays in the middle of the book tedious to read.
Savage’s bread and butter topics are sex and relationships. He offers his views on sex education (less focus on reproduction, more focus on pleasure and relationships), monogamy (good for some but not enough for others), and sexual politics in relationships (we should be “good, giving, and game”). Each essay also takes pot shots at conservative talking heads who have the ultimate sin in Savage’s eyes: hypocrisy. From Maggie Gallagher to Brian Brown to Mike Huckabee, Savage zeroes in and lets loose with didactic diatribes, while citing research study after research study to back up his claims. There’s a brutal honesty to Savage’s words (such as when he talks about his monogamish relationship with his husband of 20 years Terry) and more than a little playfulness (such as repeatedly stating how good Terry looks in leather).
One of my favorite chapters is “My Son Comes Out”, where Savage discusses the awkwardness his adopted son DJ had about disclosing he was straight to his gay parents. Savage confronts the dual ideas of gay couples making horrible parents and the concept that gay parents will produce gay children. Other chapters I found most touching (despite having not experienced them) were those where Savage discusses his mother, especially their relationship after he came out as gay and how he dealt with her death. Due to my close relationship with my own mother, the pain of Savage’s loss hit me particularly hard.

If you prefer your prose with sardonic wit and filthy asides, American Savage is the book for you. It’s not a book for the easily offended. There’s a clarity to Savage’s essays (repetitive though it may be at times) that is refreshing. His literary voice is one that demands to be heard (for better or worse). Savage is a raconteur, a firebrand, and possesses an acerbic with, all of which makes for interesting, thought-provoking reading. 

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