Handler, David. “All the Dirty Parts”, Bloomsbury USA, 2017.
Tantalizing Title/Tantalizing Book
Daniel Handler’s “All the Dirty Parts” looks at the erotic impulses of an all-too-typical young man. Cole is a boy in high school who runs cross-country, sketches, and jokes around with friends. He also constantly thinks about sex. He fantasizes about whomever he’s looking at. He loves pornography and he sleeps with a lot of girls. Because of this his reputation around school is tarnished. He really has only his best friend for company. Suddenly something starts to happen between them but then he meets Grisaille.
The book is a take on teenage desire in a culture of explicitness and open communication where sex feels like love, but where no one knows what love feels like. With short chapters, we get a tender, brutal, funny, intoxicating portrait of an age when sex seems to guide the world. This is not a love story.
Cole’s “sometimes” high school friend, Kristen, tries to help him and his male high school friends are “mystified” in that they don’t think Cole is so hot to get so much sex. Cole could care less what they think because what matters to him is sex and he thinks bout it non-stop and he acts upon it at every opportunity and as often as he can.
Cole narrates his raunchy, sexually explicit story of an adolescent with a one-track mind and body. He does so in short episodic vignettes in which he shares all. Some have called this book the gentile “Portnoy’s Complaint” (1969), the story a Jewish bachelor who is obsessed with sex and has no problem talking about it in vivid detail. However, Portnoy was an adult while Cole is still a high school student. However, times have changed and some adolescents, especially some males, are quite sexually active at a young age. For many readers, this means that this book might be shocking while for others Cole’s thoughts, feelings, and actions and the way he describes them at times are both quite funny and vulgar.
Cole’s disrespect toward and treatment of others impacts and his relationships with others, especially Alec. He is an unreliable kind of guy and Alec shows him that. Grisaille, Cole’s primary love interest is more than he could ever want (and perhaps more than he can handle).
We see what goes through an average teenage boy’s head and while Cole might be the extreme end of this spectrum, we see that he is obsessed with porn and sex. His behavior is questionable at best and often he seems to come across as a sexual predator. He is not an exemplary teenage boy and his classmates clearly distinguish him from other guys at the school and I am quite sure that some readers will find his stories uncomfortable. On the other hand, there is so much sex in the book that it is easy to become numb to it.