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Book review: <i>Marry Me</i> by Carey Marx

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the cover of the book

If this was put onto the desk of your average Hollywood producer, it would be bought for MILLIONS. "Goddammit Joel, get Murray in London on a conference right now! Somebody just dropped two hundred minutes of uncut Wacky Date Montage on my desk and I need Hugh Grant STAT!"

Cover

Vector shenanigans with a visual equation denoting the author's intended course of action, and some hand-drawn text in the "tween's pencilcase 3D" style so popular with fashionable sources of fashion that certainly won’t go out of fashion at any point. On the other hand the colour scheme is quite original - pastel greens, beiges and oranges - and the whole does rather suit the ramshackle nature of the story.

Plot

Marx is a UK stand-up comedian and long-term bachelor. He opens the book as he chats with a friend while trying to choose a theme for his next Edinburgh Festival show. When he runs the idea of an on-stage marriage up the flagpole, Marx's friend salutes enthusiastically. Marx gets the same result from his other mates, male and female alike, and sets to stitching the plan into shape. The goal becomes to do everything he can to find a wife in time for next year's Edinburgh Festival. This will include doing everything he can to become a traditionally attractive potential husband - getting fit, quitting smoking, learning to fight, dressing better, etc. Meanwhile he'll be using all the forms of woo available - from the slightly dated dating scene to the slightly ridiculous electronic environment - to entertain potential partners. Lastly, of course, Marx being a stand-up comedian, it will mean including his mission statement in his acts, as he uses stage-time to set up dates with women, re-tell stories of his experiences, and hone material for his final marriage spectacular...show...performance...thing.

The good

Marx is both a likeable lad and a quite amusing writer. You might be thinking that a comedian would necessarily turn out a funny book regardless of subject, to which I can only reply, "go and read a few." Yes, I hate to cool the room, but domestic anecdotes, tepid autobiographies and loose collections of sub-stageworthy penis observations are not necessarily enhanced by the writer's ability to tell jokes in a pub on the weekends. (I suppose this isn't really a surprise, however, particularly not when compared to the high number of comedians who supposedly specialise in prose and couldn't get a laugh out of a hyena on nitrous oxide. Desperate for audiobooks to keep me company during late-night draw-o-thons, I tried out (Adrian Mole author) Susan Townsend's collection of "humour" columns. I gave up half way through CD one - of a SEVEN (7) DISC SET - when I realised, for the most irrefutably final time, that when planet Earth has to send a competitor for the 2053 Milky Way Atonal Whingeing Olympics, she'll be a middle-class woman from England.)

Marx, however, is a competent writer, combining genuine self-awareness and a lightness of touch which allows him to be insightful and funny about his own behaviour without getting all Irish and nihilistic. And this is only during his narrative passages; when he prints his emails and letters, we see a truly hilarious personality let off the leash and doing what all comedians long to do best - make people like them by showing off. Not only can Marx do this effectively and, apparently, off the cuff and onto the email, but there's a refreshing lack of schtick to these prose performances. For want of a better word, he's silly and surreal without the Pythonesque affectations of the student prankster, plus he plays with words the way only someone who likes them can. Marx only produces the first of such emails a good fifty pages into the book, almost as an afterthought. It's modest, charming, and will genuinely impress anyone who's ever tried to woo a lady with jokey prose and gotten precisely nowhere.

Equally impressive is the quality of companion who Marx manages to attract throughout the book. His approach - in line with his silly correspondences - quickly evolves into one whereby he makes no effort at all to hide either his silliness, sauciness, or the slightly suspect nature of his intentions (e.g. the whole 'comedy fodder' thing). While morally admirable, full disclosure was really the only non-cock option here, let's face it. What's more impressive, to me, is that his silly/saucy/honest approach brings out the finest in many of his prospective partners - indeed, in several cases, their side of the correspondence - reproduced with permission - is as funny as Marx's, and opens up a whole world of possibility before the couple have even met.

So Marx is likeable, a more than capable writer, and a funny guy on the page and stage. He also sprinkles the book with serious (well, semi-serious) advice to daters of both genders. As a relative newcomer to the traditional AND e-based forms of dating, Marx starts at the baseline and fits a sharp learning curve onto the graph, gathering genuine experience with a quantity of real women and real dates that a normal bachelor would take a decade to clock up. Are you sick of the word "date" yet, for instance? So is Carey, who is quite aware of the term's unattractively retro formalities. He suggests a number of alternatives, many of which you probably use yourself, e.g. catching up, having some fun, etc etc. But, let's be honest, a date is a date is a date, and Marx's real success in Marry Me lies in getting his friends, partners, and audience to shake off the image of dating that a thousand bad films and TV shows have built around dating, e.g. two strangers in a restaurant making awkward small talk before one party develops diarrhoea and hilarity ensues. Fuck that, says Marx, it's time to reclaim the dating scene, and don't be embarrassed about how you meet, either.

The bad

(Tom sighs, rubs his face, and launches a world-weary gob of terbacky into a nearby spittoon.)
OK. This part is almost impossible to be objective about, but I'll do my level best, using my powers of understatement and phat ritin skillz.

Firstly, there are already too many books by lesser-known comedians about the one mildly unusual thing they did last decade. It's hard to be TOO annoyed with Marx for this, though, because they generally still beat the old-fashioned coffee-table joke scrapbooks we used to get from stage funnymen looking for extra income, and Marx's book, in addition, actually does contain a modicum of truth, heart and insight into modern life. It's not contemporary lit, but I've certainly read novels (particularly in the "some chicks what I boned in my twenties" young-writer genre) with less going on upstairs than Marry Me.

The crux of what makes Marry Me a failure, at least for me, is that Marx experiences almost no difficulty whatsoever in his quest, meaning that there's no conflict, crisis, revelation, climax, tension or indeed any real character development to speak of at all. There are several reasons for this, the biggest also being the one I find hardest to emotionally detach from in a critical sense, as follows: Marx introduces the book's conceit by casually outlining his bachelor lifestyle, lack of commitment (and thus baggage), and single status. However, he does this with a (possibly unintentionally) deceptive insouciance. As the book progresses past Marx's initial shock at the external enthusiasm for his stage-marriage concept, his fumbling with unfamiliar social protocols, quirky correspondence, and into the actual dating process, we realise - with, if we are the sort of person who has chronic difficulty with the opposite sex, a sense of mounting horror - that Marx has absolutely no problem whatsoever attracting women. He never had, never has, and never will have. He's good-looking, well-paid, socially adept, extroverted, funny, charming, witty, gets along very well with women and has a job (I just can't emphasise this enough) performing on stage. He has a large circle of friends of both genders, who all seem to have their own large circles of friends of both genders, many of whom are attractive single women. His female friends regularly send him messages like, quote, "When are you going to get drunk and have sex with my hot friend Shelley?" His mention of a marriage countdown immediately arouses (har) a huge level of interest from friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, colleagues and associates, and that's well before he starts going on stage and telling large crowds of young drunk people about his plan and soliciting dates from laughing women straight after the show. Combined with the combing of various online hook-up services, Marx ends up with LITERALLY more encounters than he can fit into the book, and I'm not talking about long descriptions of dates, I'm talking about the names of the women. That is correct, introverted readers - Marx quite literally cannot fit into one book the list of people willing to go out with him on the basis that he wants them to.

Now, this is not meant to suggest that Marx is some sort of awful Cleo Bachelor Of The Year douchebag. He's just got a lot going for him. By the middle of the book we've realised that the laziness of Marx' bachelor life amusingly alluded to in the introduction was not a joke or an exaggeration - it was, in fact, the only thing stopping the guy from having his pick of any number of attractive potential partners.

(AHOY, SPOILERS AHEAD, YARRR!!!) Marx seems like a fundamentally good-natured person, so I'll allow him the benefit of the doubt and say that he genuinely intended to get married, and that, by making his multitudinous approach plain to all involved, was fair with the women concerned (it's true to say, I suppose, that a musician can brag about enjoying a constant variety of women yet have no trouble finding more to join the queue, and Marx's approach is a lot more romantic than that). I'll also allow that Marx' work de-stigmatising both the traditional date and the electronic hook-up demonstrates that there are a great many different doors to companionship, and if all of us who complain about loneliness were actually to harden the fuck up and knock on every one available, then we would, at the very least, be kept busy while we waited for the right person to come along.

So, doing my best to ignore the emerald skyscraper of personal jealousy at Marx's natural ability with women and the fact that he could easily have been betrothed a decade ago if he felt like it, we're left with one man's good-natured quest to dive head-first into the dating scene and give us the sweaty goss! Aren't we? No we fucking aren't. This book is called MARRY ME. Marx (and the title, and the blurb, and the first 150 pages) sells us a mission to get married, and convinces himself (I hope), us, and a great many women, that he genuinely intends to find his future partner and that if she arrives he'll go through with it. The fact, however, is that Marx doesn't do this. He forgets most of his stated goals, in fact. Apart from quitting smoking (and let’s ask him about that today, shall we?), the entirety of Marx's mission remains unfulfilled. In short, he just runs around for a few months like a sort of turbocharged bachelor with a gold-plated get-out-of-singleness-free card, pashing hot chicks beyond counting and getting material out the wazoo. Fine. But then it all winds up in the most smug and unsatisfying way imaginable, like Jerry on Seinfeld except you're supposed to like the guy, he never gets a comeuppance, and it’s all real. Yes, I’m jealous of the guy, but I’m reviewing the book, not the man, and the fact that Carey means well couldn't redeem the latter in my mind. Given a functionally unlimited number of potential partners, he complains about being run off his feet and spending too much money on dinners, learns little and improves himself less, then pussies out of his self-defined goal and claims it as some sort of bullshit last-chapter Dr. Phil-flavoured “growth”. BOO MARRY ME YOU SUCK.

Oh look, maybe this will work if you're a functioning human being who's already married and would love a vicarious romp through the madness of dating. For the singleton, there are a few good dating tips (for, and from, both genders), and for the adventurous there are even a few good ideas for truly exciting dating ideas - one is a funny fuck-up, but another is a truly impressive tailored experience for a particular lady, and makes you wonder how good the book could have been if Marx had simply devoted himself to the idea of creating the most astonishing dates possible whilst focussing on, I don't know, ONE PERSON AT A TIME. (In fact Marx states, at least three times, his intention to pioneer such dates involving new and exciting activities - then does it twice, forgets about it, and spends his other hundred and ninety-eight dates in pubs and restaurants. That should give the prospective reader an idea of the ambition of the book, including the author’s common combo of laziness disguised as self-deprecation and the inability to overcome his feeble disregard for commitment, still resolutely in place at the end of the – uncommitted - conclusion.)

If you don't expect anything other than a dip into the modern dating pool and a free basic swimming lesson, you'll be fine. If you're intrigued by the blurb, intrigued by the title, expecting a lot of raunch, hoping for some sort of narrative resolution and character growth, or have been involuntarily celibate for a long time and already want to punch Marx in the gab-gifted mouth, look elsewhere for kicks.

What I learnt

Women apparently find the idea of an old-fashioned man looking for a wife romantic (sigh) especially if they have to compete for his attentions (SIGH) with hundreds of other women.

In short

Title: Marry Me
Author: Carey Marx
Publisher: Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0755314584
Year published: 2006
Pages: 288
Genre(s): Non fiction, Humour, Autobiography
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