Book Review: “Hilarity Ensues” by Tucker Max

Well, something ensues.

Sarah Harper

“Hilarity Ensues”

Author: Tucker Max

Publisher: Blue Heller books

Tucker Max, now 35 years old, is the undisputed king of the dick-lit scene. With books like “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” and “Assholes Finish First” under his belt, he’s the favorite author of fratty lads everywhere. He has fun and does what feels good — and he doesn’t care about the damage he does to his liver or to the women he mercilessly insults.

So dude-centric, so alcohol-driven and so lady-leering is his writing that The New York Times reporter Warren St. John was inspired to slap the label “fratire” onto the spines of his books — the latest of which, “Hilarity Ensues,” came out this month.

The only problem with the term St. John cleverly coined is that Max was never in a fraternity. But his books do act as chapters in a proverbial guide on how to be a stereotypical frat boy.

They’re collections of mostly drunken sexploits, strung together by an assumption that they are true. When we read his stuff, we feel like we’re crowded around Max at a bar, and someone just turned down the music a little bit so we can hear him better.

But the books aren’t all the same. “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” was a fresh shock, and its story about an evening of anal sex mishaps reached urban legend status. Even “Sloppy Seconds” brought a little spice to the table, and Max is giving it away for free on his website. But “Hilarity Ensues” feels dry — ironically, a word Tucker Max would probably never tolerate in his personal life.

Max’s earlier works were appealing partly because of their everyman quality — Max wasn’t a New York Times best-selling author back when he started up TuckerMax.com. And he wasn’t telling us stories about being invited to hang out with the guy who makes his favorite sweet-tea vodka. He was just a guy who loved to party and get laid. But now Max has tasted literary fame, and too many of his stories hinge on being invited places by VIP fans and having girls try to sext him because he made his number public.

The break from the insanity is when Max tells us about going to Alaska to hang out with the guys on “Deadliest Catch.” We see Max in awe of the fishermen, and we get the inside scoop on what the guys on the show are really like. He dedicates the whole section to Justin Tennison, a member of the “Time Bandit” crew who passed away a month after Max and his pals left Alaska.

But then Max details a saga with Miss Vermont, Katy Johnson, which caps off in a glossy section that’s just Max making fun of her website, screen shot by screen shot. It’s classic Max: arrogant and awful.

His writing style compounds the lackluster content: there are some giggle-worthy one-liners peppered in — Max calls South By Southwest parties “a recipe for University of Chicago PTSD.” But really, these one-liners only feel like keen observations because they stand so alone in choppy seas of unpolished and unoriginal prose.

The best part of “Hilarity Ensues” is the epilogue, in which Max explains why he’s retiring from the autobiographical story-telling game. “This is not who I am anymore,” he writes. Max is grown, and he’s all out of stories. It’s time to settle up with the bartender and hail a cab home.

Some people take Max seriously enough to accuse him of promoting rape culture. In an interview with TotalFratMove.com, he said, “I mean I do A LOT of [expletive] up [expletive] that I think you can criticize, but rape just doesn’t fit into it. It’s like accusing me of genocide or something. It doesn’t make any sense, I don’t get it! It’s basically someone wants to promote their agenda on my back, you know?”

Max is right in some ways — writers do tend to treat reviews of his work as doors upon which to nail all of their gender relations grievances. And Max doesn’t actually promote or condone rape. Why would he? But there’s a difference between rape and rape culture.

Here’s what people really mean when they accuse Max of promoting rape culture:  

He objectifies women. (How? It’s twofold: Max has no regard for the ones you sleep with. And his vocabulary is stacked with words like slut, whore and bitch — words that reduce women from “people who can choose to have healthy sex with assholes” to “beings who are defined purely by their sexual activity.”)

Anyway, when he objectifies women, his readers see women as less than human. Because the women become less-thans, they lose all of the rights that humans have — one of which is the natural, inalienable right to not be raped.

Even though Max is a smart guy who breezed through law school and probably knows better, most of his readers are just people in the mood for a good laugh. They definitely aren’t putting on their critical thinking hats when they pick up his books.

But this isn’t a chicken/egg situation. Rape culture came well before fratire. And Max has tapped into a powerful understanding of how society has manipulated women to think about themselves.

He cracked the code, but we have to remember that he’s not its original writer. The girls are already insecure, he’s already handsome and confident, and publishers are dying for edgy non-fiction that rakes in the cash. So why wouldn’t he put it all together and write a few books?

It’s easy to shake your head and say, “Boys will be boys.” But boys don’t have to be awful, and to argue otherwise is an insult to boys everywhere.

1 out of 4 stars