BOOK REVIEW: The Glamshack by Paul W. Cohen
A look at Paul W. Cohen's debut novel.
Henry is a fashion journalist who’s not very good at his job. All of his interviews seem to go wrong in one way or another. He meets a woman, who he only ever refers to as “Her,” and is immediately smitten by her. They have a whirlwind romance over a couple of months, but Henry learns that she is engaged to be married. While she leaves to visit her fiance, he idles away the time at his poolhouse, which he calls “the Glamshack,” and reflects on his life, their relationship, and on the American Indian Wars.
“If love is a hangnail then there’s no difference between Her madness and the madman’s and mine—between everything is divine and nothing is—because the universe is composed of madness particles and the sum of them is absurdity, and valuelessness, and nothing matters and nothing ever has and I cannot endure this—I run from this.”
The book’s lyrical prose and rather strict structure makes the novel read more like a prose poem. The first chapter has Henry seeing off his lover from his Glamshack. In the next chapter he flashes back to when they met. From then on it follows the same structure. Henry in his Glamshack followed by a flashback to either his time with Her, to his childhood, or to other moments in his life.
As expected, this book is heavily focused on Henry’s psychological landscape. He’s fallen in love with this woman, despite the fact she’s unavailable. He hopes that they can be together, but he struggles with the fact that he’s simply “the other man.” He also finds himself haunted by a childhood memory in which he was trapped in a fire in the woods caused by a pyromaniac.
Henry often finds himself reflecting on what he knows about the American Indian Wars. It often becomes a sort of mantra for him to mentally recite facts about it while under stress, however it seemed Cohen was attempting to relate it to the main narrative somehow. However, the struggles of Native Americans against the US Army don’t seem to have any connection to Henry’s own struggles. Perhaps the meaning is so personal to the author that I wasn’t able to make the connection. Still, he brings it up in relation to Henry’s personal dilemmas very often, especially towards the end, when the connection seems tenuous at best.
As heavy as this book can be, it does have it moments of levity. There are several parts where Henry attempts to actually do his job, but he completely bungles his interviews with photographers and models, because, frankly, he knows dick about the fashion world. While these parts aren’t laugh out loud funny, they’re still very amusing.
Henry isn’t the most likable character. Besides the fact he’s sleeping with a woman set to be married, he also comes across as very self-centered and just not that bright. Despite that, Cohen manages to explore his neuroses deeply enough, that he becomes quite empathetic. I actually found myself rooting for him to win Her over and felt sad when the inevitable conclusion of Her walking out of his life forever was reached.