The ridiculously talented Chad Kultgen seems to be stuck in a holding pattern. His point of view is going to offend anyone who slows down long enough to take a look. Yes, it’s like a car crash, or the last few minutes of ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, where Jennifer Jason Leigh…you get the idea. Last summer I picked up the very funny ‘Average American Male’ and wondered why on earth this kind of writing hadn’t seen the light of day before. It’s offensive, full of juicy sex, and misogynistic. The hatred of women leaps of the page like a wet fart.
Which brings me to ‘The Lie’, his second book, that will make ‘American Psycho’ look like choir practice. Kultgen is like Chekhov on truth serum, with this new book he delivers an evisceration of today’s college social stratosphere. The narrative is both emotionally detached and smeared with the stink of hard core sex, orgies, grotesque visions of anal sex, binge drinking, copious ingestion of drugs, and it’s a sweet love triangle. A perfect Valentine for the one you love.
The story is told in a flashback from the voices of Kyle, Heather and Brett. They’re all in their first year of college, and we follow them all the way to graduation. Kyle starts out straight laced but eventually gets jaded by his experiences with Heather his on again off again girlfriend, she is portrayed as a gold digger, nothing more than an empty and untalented woman. Brett, the third arm of this story comes from a ridiculously wealthy background, which is something he is trying to avoid, lazily, while he has sex with any girl who crosses his path. Brett is the reason women hate men. He spends the entire story finding new and exciting ways to demoralize and dehumanize women, whom he only refers to as whores. I found Brett boring and repetitive, but almost a necessary aspect of the story because his personality, which so vacant of emotion, where as Heather and Kyle are their own worst nightmares. Brett is honestly and clearly portrayed as a woman hating young man who sees things through vomit stained glasses.
Kyle and Heather tell their stories while falling into bed with each, even though Heather is only trying to get closer to Brett, who happens to be Kyle’s best friend. Along the way Heather gives oral pleasure to a slimy frat boy who eventually forces her into a gang bang. All of this is told with a surgical efficiency that you come to admire and then wonder when it will all be over. Kyle is good in bed, (in this story that’s important) and when Heather dumps him, Kyle ends up with a “nice girl” who isn’t very good in bed, but still treats Kyle like a human being. The arc of this novel is about two things; Kyle finding love and Heather fitting into the social structure at her sorority and hoping to get married to a rich man. The chapters where Heather is trying to get a leg up among her “sisters” are some of the more mundane musings about that part of college life because Heather is so intensely boring and flat. She doesn’t warrant our sympathy, she seems to be trying to hard to fit in, and she has the personality of a shoe.
This isn’t to say that Kultgen has flaws as a writer, but he doesn’t do Heather any favors, or any girl in this book. Heather is studying to be a school teacher and she spends almost no time actually studying. Kyle seems intent on getting an education but is ultimately corrupted by his low self esteem and his failure to keep a girlfriend. These two characters would fit perfectly into a late night soap opera, sadly they have as much emotional capacity as an outhouse. From time to time you wonder where this book is going, it’s not charging ahead, but coming to a messy boil.
Brett is the amoral center of this tale, someone who eventually becomes part of the love triangle, which is the center of this glacial narrative. It’s not easy to like Brett; he’s fantastically wealthy and spends most of his time talking about how stupid Kyle is for loving Heather, and how all women need to be horrendously defiled in the bedroom. If the women he chooses to bed don’t do what he wants he just sends them on their way and calls upon women who will oblige him. His theory of sexual conquest comes from the idea that all women are in it for the money, and will sleep with him just to be close to his wealth. Brett is a depraved and sick individual, someone that doesn’t have a moral compass, guide, or chart. Brett goes from bad to worse very quickly, and by association brings Kyle down into the mud with him. Things don’t end well for anyone who comes close to Brett.
Chad Kultgen: I hadn’t really thought about if anyone was ready for it or not. I don’t think it’s nearly as potentially offensive as my first book and I don’t think it’s really saying anything that shocking about college students. I guess since the entire world is on the brink of financial collapse I just hope there are a few people who find the thing interesting enough to scrape together 14 bucks and pick up a copy, ready or not. And, of course, I’m hoping that for every hundred or so women who are turned off by the really filthy stuff in the book there are at least one or two who are really turned on.
JR: When I finished with Average American Male I looked around at the people I knew and wondered if they felt like your nameless hero, or had at one point in their lives felt that way. Oversexed, emotionally disconnected, spending insane amounts of time on their appearance (in the gym)
and have more in common with video games than other people, and to be honest, I couldn’t find that many people who might feel this way. Not surprisingly your men are always written in broad strokes, and can’t access their emotions. But I do think that the way you wrote your first novel is exactly how men feel when they are in their early twenties. With that story were you hoping to catch that mood, or feeling, as you saw it happening around you?
CK: I guess the reason I wrote my first book had something to do with seeing the contemporary man in modern popular media being portrayed as a retarded oaf whose smart sassy wife was really in charge of the house, or worse having that book He’s Just Not That Into You being held up as the most honest look at how guys really think about relationships. None of the stuff I was aware of that was supposed to be a real representation of guys my age or guys in general resonated with me at all. I thought I’d take a crack at writing something that was maybe a little exaggerated but, if nothing else, at least far more honest and far less sugar coated than all of the other crap out there. While I don’t think most guys feel like the main character of The Average American Male 100% of the time, I think we all have little flashes of that guy in us. And I’d say that since the book’s release I’ve certainly received my fair share of e-mails from readers who completely identify with him.
JR: At the center of The Lie, you try to advance the idea that there is no such thing as “love”, there is only primal attraction, and everything else in the world is either something or someone to be endured or obtained, and your characters have sense of entitlement that says a lot about that generation (college kids right now). Do you really feel this way?
CK: I wouldn’t say that I’m really trying to destroy the idea of love with this book. One of the three main characters in this book is tortured by what I would consider actual love, certainly more than just primal lust. Even though logic tells him he should get out of certain situations, his love for one of the other main characters keeps him coming back for more emotional abuse. And I’d even say that one of the other main characters, Heather, experiences her own version of love, no matter how much her definition may differ from what we might consider a more classical definition. I think she feels like she’s experiencing love at a few points in the book.
As for the sense of entitlement, it’s an interesting time right now for the generation of kids who are leaving college. I do think they’re a generation who have been raised on MTV Cribs and clips of Paris Hilton and a general media image of what adult life is that makes everything, including wealth, seem easily attainable. So, yes, I think there is a strong sense of entitlement there and these kids are coming into a world, or a country at least that is seriously in the crapper with specific regard to financial stability. So it will be an interesting 5 or 10 years to see what these kids do with their sense of entitlement and a financial system that can’t support it.
JR: And with your antihero Brett, you deliver a character that would make Bret Easton Ellis blush. Where does Brett Keller come from? He seems to be the messenger for the morals you think are so corrupted in the youth of today. On top of that, he hates women with a passion and never passes up an opportunity to defile the nearest female. Do you think this kind of person exists?
CK: I’ve always been interested in characters who are so rich or powerful that they can operate outside of the normal social or legal systems without consequence. I thought a character like Brett was an interesting way to explore the idea of a person who has that luxury but also developed a kind of warped idea of things at a very young age. So he’s basically been unchecked in his ideals and actions since he was a child. I also tend to like characters, I think, who view the world in absolutes, black and white, which I think Brett does. Do I think a guy like Brett exists? Sure. Every kind of person you can think has to exist somewhere.
JR: The main characters in The Lie, Kyle, Heather and Brett are involved in a love triangle that ends badly, some would say repulsively. I never saw the last fifty pages coming. I’d been through almost four years of their lives at college, the ups and downs of a relationship, Heather and her search for a husband, Kyle in his quest for love, and Brett who never really finds what he wants, probably because his wealth provided him with everything. When you were writing this story were there things you wouldn’t do? Places you wouldn’t go?
CK: I guess I wouldn’t do anything or go anyplace that I felt wasn’t true to the characters at whatever point in the progress of the story they might have been. But, there’s a part in the book that has Brett using a rubber fist on a girl at one point if I remember right. So, as long as something like that seemed like something Brett would do, I was more than happy to go there.
JR: I found a lot of the sex in this book to be emotionally accurate, and at some points mind numbing. These characters spend a lot of time getting laid, but what do they get out of it, certainly not satisfaction, maybe social status?
CK: I think they each get something different from the sex they’re having, and obviously depending at what point in the story we’re talking about they might be motivated to be fucking any specific character for any variety of reasons. I think Kyle, in many cases, actually got emotional intimacy from the sex he was having. Certainly at other points he got emotional distance, which he thought he needed at the time. Heather got everything from, like you said, her own perceived social status to just plain orgasms. Brett… who the fuck knows what he got from sex other than something that becomes sort of a secret and ultimate weapon at one point in the book. But I think they all got the same kinds of things that most people get out of sex, whether it’s the closest intimacy you can have with another person or just a hole to shoot your load in, or a stiff dick to get you off (for all the ladies out there… and gay dudes).
JR: Was college life for you anything like this? And where do you think this book fits in with its peers, American Psycho and I Am Charlotte Simmons?
CK: College life was nothing like this for me. I went to film school, which meant I had virtually no schoolwork. I just got drunk and watched movies. And I wish the sex would have been like that for me. I had a long distance girlfriend for all 4 years of college who I never cheated on. I know. To even have this book compared to those two is a compliment my shit is not worth.
JR: Your writing style for both books is incredibly focused and very realistic, free of cliché and pop culture, how hard did you work to scrub this down to its bare essentials?
CK: Not that hard. I think it comes from the fact that I write a lot of movie and TV stuff, too, and stage direction is usually really sparse and to the point, at least mine is. I’m pretty sure the reason my books are like that, too, is because it’s a familiar style to me.
JR: Are there other writers you look up to, who are your favorites? And are there any plans for either of your books to be made into movies?
CK: Favorites have always been sci-fi guys. I read Asimov’s Foundation series once every few years and I still don’t know if anything I’ve ever read is that impressive to me. Frank Herbert – Dune. That was huge for me as a kid and I still really like it. I’ve been getting into Michele Houellebecq more recently – The Possibility of an Island and Elementary Particles are both books of his that I really liked. Of course, Bret Easton Ellis is up there.
JR: Chad, thanks for taking the time.
CK: Thank you for taking the time.