The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power

Forthcoming from Mad Creek Books on February 25, 2019

Excerpt

This book aims to be a short, intensive immersion into the perils, limits, and possibilities of human intimacy. How did I get this way? What is this way? Our marriage involving this way. Attempt to stop being this way. Implications of being this way.

Or: What is it like to be this way? How did I get this way? What is it like for you that I’m this way? Can I live with being this way? Can I stop being this way?

Or: Hamartia; childhood; marital strife; irreparable damage; ah, but we are all like this.

Or: The nature of; the sources of; our marriage involving; my attempts to rid myself of; a partial defense of.

Or: Human history of; psychic sources of; our marriage involving; attempt to eliminate and/or suppress and/or attempt to disentangle from (and/or affirm?); psychological/ philosophical implications of, etc.

Or: How 1) one is wounded; 2) one tries to overcome these wounds; 3) these wounds become the very theater of one’s self; 4) one despairs that one will ever overcome those wounds, and these wounds lead one to anger, violence; and 5) finally, we connect to other people by realizing we are all wounded (this is our scar tissue and our glue, etc.).

Or: The nature of masochism. The origins of masochism. Our marriage involving masochism. Attempt to surmount masochism. A philosophy (and/or a psychology?) of masochism.

Or: Acknowledgment of my masochistic tendencies. Biological, psychological, and philosophical sources. Manifestation in our marriage. The sense that all there is in the author’s life/heart is suffering. The sense that, for all human beings, existence is suffering.

Or: On Being One’s Own Bitch.

Perhaps the real subject is my willingness, or at least desire/ impulse, to write this book, to risk our marriage— Do I love you? Do you love me? What kind of marriage do we want? How real?
Let’s say I’m wrItIng a love Letter to you.

Or: Do you like me? Do you care about me?

Or: Are you in love with me? Do you like making love with me? Do you love making love with me?
(Don’t answer.)

 

Reviews

“A fearless consideration of sex and power that is also a moving meditation on the possibility of love.” —Amy Fusselman

“His honesty would be startling if we didn’t already expect just this from David Shields: a willingness to ask what no one wants to ask (but everyone longs to know) and say what no one will say (but everyone longs to hear).” —Sallie Tisdale

“This extraordinary, revelatory, brilliant book is a riveting exploration of sadism and masochism and, more importantly, the hold these powerful poles have on all of our psyches—how SM can creep into a marriage, turning and twisting it until it resembles something pornographic. At the same time that Shields explores these impulses, he wrestles with the concept of privacy. How much can one reveal about one’s deepest desires? Can one explore one’s marriage and still stay in it? Can writing and marriage coexist if the writer wants to be nakedly, brutally truthful about himself/herself? What matters more—the ties that bind us to each other or the blank page demanding the dark ink of honesty? The reader is held enthralled, watching with ever widening eyes, unable to turn away.” —Lauren Slater

“David Shields is the most honest writer alive.” —John Skoyles

“A great book, which deserves a wide readership. No one else does what Shields does: the breadth of his cultural references; the depth of his intellectual and emotional investigation, which never feels didactic; and the utterly original way in which he combines personal experience, literary criticism, and quotation to explore all aspects of sentient life and culture.” —Susan Daitch

“On the surface, this book is very serious and risky, but there’s a wink, and the wink comes in the construction. Shields says extraordinarily candid things and then, instead of weighing the reader down with all these experiences, memories, questions, desires, and analyses, he brings in echoing and countering voices of ancient and modern writers that lift the book right back up into the air. This technique and the brevity make the book both intimate and universal.” —Whitney Otto

“I’ve often wondered whether a married person can write about sex and love with any degree of candor and hope to stay married. David Shields’s answer: a book that is dangerously, melancholically truthful but also an elegant work of art. The Trouble with Men is unexpectedly moving and sneakily profound.” —Laura Kipnis

“I have long admired David Shields and his literary departures, but The Trouble with Men is a departure from the departures. I’m haunted by this book, also a little obsessed with it, confused by it, afraid of it, angry at it, in awe of it, thankful for it.” —Meghan Daum

“In an era of reckonings, The Trouble with Men, nearly gymnastic in structure, is a timely and trenchant book unlike anything I’ve read before, stabbing, with confessional and sharp-witted boldness, into big themes of sex and love and power.” —Cathy Alter

“The Trouble with Men is truly great, and I mean it—a great book such as no one has ever written. Montaigne and Rousseau are the clear predecessors, but they pulled their punches. Shields is riskier and more down-to-earth, his obsessiveness is on target, and he strikes home.”
—Peter Brooks

“In our culture at this moment, the prevailing discussion of the way relationships work between groups and between individuals often leaves no space for contradiction. The Trouble With Men cuts deep, making the conversation more satisfyingly messy. It does this through lacerating self-examination and a complexly organized symphony of voices and sources (from scholarly to pop) circling one another, sometimes harmoniously and sometimes in conflict. I find the book more beautiful and affirmative in its confusion, self-doubt, and embarrassment than many of the (even well-intentioned) narratives about gender we’re forcing down each other’s throats right now.”
—Elizabeth Cooperman

“The most original, insightful, and heartbreaking book about sexual desire since Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse. No contemporary writer writes with the honesty, ingenuity, and originality that David Shields brings to the notoriously slippery subject of erotic love. Lovers’ quarrels, lovers’ lies, lovers’ madnesses, first love, and how to love: it’s all here. Devastating, inspiring, and totally enthralling.”
—Clancy Martin

“Smart, ecstatic, subdued, clever, genuine, fearful, and brave, all at once. This is a beautiful book.” —Lisa Taddeo

“Do I love you? Do you love me? What kind of marriage do we want? How real? Do you like me? Do you care about me? Are you in love with me? Do you love making love with me? Do you like being married to me? Do you love being married to me? A playful, sneaky, rangy, pulsating, vertiginous, and invaluable investigation into these questions, which belong to all of us.” —Katherine Standefer

“Writers have always thrived on their conflicting impulses toward personal confession and universal significance. Shields exposes that conflict and pushes it to the limit. Readers will be electrified and frankly amazed, not so much by the completeness of the confession as the personal circumstances in which it is made. And amazed again when, in the space of a few lines, the personal and particular are submerged in a turbulent ocean of collective longing and frustration.” —Tim Parks

“In The Trouble with Men, when Shields pushes his own incisive shards up against those of dozens of other writers, the fragments touch upon one another in startling ways. The result is a poetic, unique, and powerful mosaic.” —Melanie Thernstrom

“I’ve read all of Shields’s books, and this is my favorite: the most genuinely vulnerable thing he has written. That said, the vulnerability isn’t maudlin or grotesque; it sneaks through, though it’s unmistakably there. And the self-reflexive gestures (the way in which he’s interrogating the book even as he’s composing it) are more powerful than ever here. I love the humor in concert with the wide-open danger. It’s as he’s troubled by the material and trying to know the material but not know it too well. There were moments in the last third when I had to stand up because I couldn’t read it sitting down.” —Peter Mountford

“The most boldly naked book I’ve ever read.” —Matthew Vollmer