The last time I was in Los Angeles I met an Old Etonian who told me that having an English accent was like being a Calvin Klein underwear model. "It's incredible," he said. "I literally have to fight them off with a stick."
During the five years I spent working as a journalist in New York this was not my experience. An English accent may still act like an aphrodisiac in LA, but in Manhattan successive generations of freeloading Fleet Street hacks have poisoned that well. These days, when New York women hear the dulcet tones of a true blue Englishman they think: small apartment, low income, alcohol problem. And they're usually right.
Perhaps I would have fared better if I had a Canadian accent. The most striking thing about Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor is how much luck its Canadian author, Rick Marin, has with the opposite sex. This book, which charts his 10-year tour of duty on the Manhattan singles circuit, reads like an Austin Powers fantasy. Rather irritatingly, there's no dust jacket photo, so it's impossible to judge how much of this is due to his physical appearance. But I suspect that, like me, he's no Calvin Klein underwear model. So what's his secret?
The answer--and this may come as something of a disappointment to those who buy the book on the strength of its title--is that he's about as far from cadish as it's possible to be. He's more like every woman's dream date. He's well-dressed and clean-shaven and always has a wisecrack at the ready. He isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but he's witty and debonaire and his best lines sound like they've been polished by a crack Hollywood screenwriter. "I used to joke that my number was on the wall of the women's room at Bellevue," he quips, seeking to explain why he attracts so many nut-jobs. He may have turned himself into a more sharp-witted character than he actually is, a temptation all memoirists face, but the overall impression he creates is that, had he only been born 40 years earlier, he could easily have been a member of the Rat Pack. For people with a soft spot for such Vegas lounge lizards, this book is a real pleasure. It goes down like a dry Martini.
The question arises, then: What's with the title? Why describe yourself as a cad when you so obviously aren't? By "toxic bachelor" Marin seems to have nothing more sinister in mind than a certain reluctance to commit. This is so mild that I doubt it would even raise one of Bridget Jones's eyebrows. The book begins with the collapse of his first marriage and ends with him meeting his second wife, hardly the track record of a full-blown commitment-phobe. Compared to your average British Loaded reader, Rick Marin is practically a New Man.
This may partly come down to a simple cultural misunderstanding. The standards to which educated, professional men are held in America--Marin is a successful journalist--are considerably higher than they are here. Marin seems to regard failing to return a woman's phone call after a one-night stand as the last word in cadish behaviour. Other crimes include sneaking into an all-girls dorm, hanging out at a bar called Billy's Topless and twirling his horn-rimmed spectacles in a seductive manner. Flashman he aint.
Perhaps the real explanation is that this is high-concept non-fiction. Marin is clearly trying to come up with the male equivalent of all those chic lit bestsellers and passing himself off as a cad must have struck him as the best way to do this. He's very "promotable", as they say in the American publishing business--a good talk show guest. It has worked, too, up to a point. Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor arrives in Britain after a fairly successful launch in America.
Provided you treat it as a beach read, rather than anything more serious, it's pretty entertaining stuff. There's some soul-searching towards the end in which Marin compares himself unfavourably to his father, a Spanish intellectual who fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, but it doesn't do much to deepen the story. It reads like a genre-requirement, something he's stuck in to make the book more Hornby-esque. I liked this book and when I'd finished it I urged my wife to read it, but I don't suppose it'll linger very long in the memory. Marin has clearly worked hard to give it that smooth, easy-listening quality, but he doesn't suffer enough to fully engage the reader's sympathies. The bottom line is you simply can't feel sorry for someone who's been to bed with so many women. If he had been a member of the Rat Pack, he'd have been Peter Lawford rather than Dean Martin. He's a lot of fun to be around in the cocktail hour, but you wouldn't want to stay up half the night with him sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels.