Vincent's status as a "masculine woman" abets this transformation, but the subject of her lesbianism falls away, more or less, once her adventures as Ned begin. Indeed, one of the great attributes of "Self-Made Man" is its lack of agenda or presuppositions. To be sure, Vincent's status as a woman is what makes her observations of male behavior fresh - introducing herself to some guys in a bowling league, she's touched by the ritual howyadoin', man-to-man handshake, which, "from the outside . . . had always seemed overdone to me," but from the inside strikes her as remarkably warm and inclusive, worlds away from the "fake and cold" air kisses and limp handshakes exchanged by women. But in its best moments, "Self-Made Man" transcends its premise altogether, offering not an undercover woman's take on male experience, but simply a fascinating, fly-on-the-wall look at various unglamorous male milieus that are well off the radar of most journalists and book authors.
That bowling league, for example. Norah-as-Ned commits to it for eight months, becoming the weak link on a four-man team of working-class white men. (Vincent has changed the names of the characters and obscured the locations to protect the identities of her subjects.) The resultant chapter is as tender and unpatronizing a portrait of America's "white trash" underclass as I've ever read. "They took people at face value," writes Vincent of Ned's teammates, a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker. "If you did your job or held up your end, and treated them with the passing respect they accorded you, you were all right." Neither dumb lugs nor proletarian saints, Ned's bowling buddies are wont to make homophobic cracks and pay an occasional visit to a strip club, but they surprise Vincent with their lack of rage and racism, their unflagging efforts to improve Ned's atrocious bowling technique and "the absolute reverence with which they spoke about their wives," one of whom is wasting away from cancer.
Sounds really interesting, and well worth reading. Link from Instapundit, whose readers point out:
"a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker"
Since when do those occupations describe the "white-trash underclass"?
That could only get by a NYT editor, I'm afraid.