Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews ... Men, Women & Children

October 06, 2011



When the novel you are set to read comes with a warning from both the publisher and other reviewers, you know you’re in for a doozy. And a doozy is exactly what you get when you read Chad Kultgen’s Men, Women & Children (Harper Perennial). Kultgen tackles the subject of interpersonal relationships (specifically the sexual aspect of them), and leaves nothing left to the imagination. Be prepared to gasp loudly (much to the annoyance or laughter of others), be consistently shocked, and exclaim “There’s no way!” until that phrase has no meaning left.

Men, Women & Children follows a set of characters that are somewhat connected with each other in the now familiar technique of ensemble casts. All the adults are parents of  eighth graders at Goodrich Junior High School. The story focuses on seven of the parents—some stably married, others in single-parent homes for different reasons, others completely unhappy and dissatisfied. The junior-highers range from the football players and the cheerleaders to the online geeks, the lonely outsiders, and everything in between.

Although highly sexual (and that is the understatement of the year), the book isn’t necessarily about the topic of sexual satisfaction (or dissatisfaction), pornography, underage exploitation, masturbation, or prostitution. What this novel does is clearly delineate the need for communication on all sides—between husband and wives, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, boyfriends and girlfriends, and between friends, regardless of the sex of those involved. By setting the novel in a modern era (though you may be with me in being surprised by the constant references to MySpace), Kultgen highlights the use of modern technology. Today's generation has never not known how to use a cell phone, a computer, a handheld gaming device, or any other piece of technology (though the demographics that use these devices are certainly going to be more white, upwardly mobile, and consistently middle class or better, but that is a completely different discussion that is not addressed within this book).

Kultgen highlights the use of MySpace, World of Warcraft (WoW), cell phones (both for texting, which leads to sexting, as well as for sending both appropriate and inappropriate photos), Facebook, chat rooms, blogs, and themed websites with content for everything under the sun. This is not a “moral panic” piece, as some might read it, and know that you will
consistently roll your eyes at the women Kultgen uses to portray said panic. Instead, it highlights just how necessary true communication is in relationships. Even without different  technologies in the picture, plenty of miscommunication, misinterpretation, missed pieces of mail, or bad landline reception has plagued individuals for centuries (well, except for the landline part). Kultgen simply shows that people need to be emotionally real with others, and when that doesn't occur in relationships, there can be devastating consequences. The novel shows the downward spiral to which couples, whether romantically involved or not, can succumb if they're not honest with each other.

This being said, this novel certainly is not for everyone. Whether you are a parent or not (and I am, and of a girl no less—ahh, truly frightening!), you will be shocked at the amount of sexual content in this novel. It is underaged characters that have been drawn here, and they are in some eyebrow-raising, shriek-inducing situations that made me want to lock my own daughter in her room for the next 20 years. Said scenes having occurred, I’m not sure if they were to my literary taste. Some of the dialogue is poorly written, sounding really forced and awkward, though there may be some argument that the author did it on purpose. If not, then I don’t necessarily know what to think. Kultgen did have a somewhat interesting motif that I thought was intriguing. He would often have the characters thinking the exact same thing, in order to show their agreement and disagreement on different topics. This motif highlighted the consistent theme of necessary communication, as mentioned before, whether it be between friends, partners, or family members.

I believe Kultgen has some good things to say, specifically about relationships and technology, but sometimes it wasn’t worth trudging through the intense sexual element that dominated—to the point of overpowering—the otherwise needed message of openness in our relationships. 


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