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February 5, 2011

Review of Josh Muggins’s Wussie: In Praise of Spineless Men


By Josh Muggins






Well, folks, Josh Muggins has gone and done it again. No, not dipping his genitals in molten caramel and letting his Chihuahuas lick it off. Writing a book, I mean. And in the opinion of your humble critic—me, Josh Muggins—Wussie: In Praise of Spineless Men is Josh Muggins’s finest work yet.

Slightly under two years have passed since the Great Sniveler last let a book drop from his scaly talons. In that interim, NASA launched the Kepler Mission to search for extrasolar planets; the Winter Olympics and World Cup came and went; the Chilean miners were trapped and freed; the Tea Party movement took root in American politics; and (not coincidentally) scientists confirmed a genetic link between Neanderthals and modern humans. Marilyn Chambers, David Carradine, Michael Jackson, Ted Stevens, and Hwang Jang Yop died; a pack of jaggoffs whose names we don’t yet know, but who will one day be at least as important as the pack of jaggoffs who died, were born.

And now that we’ve given this two-year era the full Ken Burns treatment, let it be noted that Josh Muggins chose to write nary a single word about any of the above. Oh, to be sure, Michael Jackson and the Tea Party are name-checked in Wussie, along with Lindsay Lohan, Jimmy Stewart, Lars von Trier, and Ben Quayle. But one wonders how Muggins could have overlooked the passings of Marilyn Chambers and David Carradine, given that dated pornography and dangerous forms of masturbation are prominent among his themes.

But to get on with it, then: With Wussie: In Praise of Spineless Men, Muggins for the first time drifts away from the memoir form and into that more commercial sort of mashup of historical nonfiction and personal anecdote so artfully done by Sarah Vowell, among others. He thus uses “wussitude”—defined as the condition of being a wussie or the extent to which one is a wussie—as a coat-rack on which to drape whatever snips and scraps his twisted mind can spin forth on the theme of manliness (or the lack thereof).

Much as a more polished writer like Vowell might use the history of the New England Puritans as a jumping-off point to delve into the lives of that period’s more intriguing personages, Muggins tentpoles his prose on four “Profiles in Wussitude”—biographical treatments of the biblical Isaac, wartime emperor Hirohito of Japan, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry David Thoreau. Most of the other sixteen chapters can be equally divided into sketches of particularly pathetic wussies the author has encountered; episodes testifying to Muggins's own wussie credentials, and faux-Gladwell essays exploring the very nature of wussitude. A few single-page Cosmo-like checklists are sprinkled about (e.g., on how to tell the difference between a wussie and a Wookie), presumably to let readers cleanse their palates between the longer segments.

Does Josh Muggins succeed in weaving these disparate parts into a coherent and entertaining whole? Biased though I may be by the fact that I am, in fact, Josh Muggins, I dare venture a cautious yes.

There is much to like in Josh Muggins’s Wussie: In Praise of Spineless Men. In this, his third and most accessible offering to date, Muggins has tamed some of the indulgent excesses of his earlier work. The long, rambling dialogues with his own conscience (aka “Dr. Phil”) that marred How To Pick Up Japanese Chicks And Doom Your Immortal Soul have been phased out (with one exception in an early chapter, where the conceit actually serves its purpose). And, whereas Summer of Marv took the reader on a long, winding vacation trip to nowhere, Wussie at least has a warm and humane (if self-evident) controlling idea: i.e., that wussies are harmless creatures who can’t help what they are, and that they thus merit society’s acceptance. And the occasional handjob.

When on his game, Josh Muggins is as gifted as any humor writer working today. And, though he still has a few layers of bullshit to peel back before he gets down to the truly rotten core of self-knowledge, he just may be the most brutally honest humorist churning out books and blogs. (His chapter-long review of an infant-sized fellatio simulator called the Rolling Fella Bomber testifies to that.) The profiles of Isaac and Thoreau, the two episodes involving hapless high school drama coach Mr. Black—these niftily crafted bits go down as easily and sweetly as mama’s homemade pudding. “The Wussies of Shakespeare and Leave It To Beaver” would not have been out of place in an issue of the old Spy magazine. And the subversive cover art and illustrations by the reliable Gary Pettis serve as icing on the cake.

That said, Muggins is still too much in love with his own considerable glibness. He often seems content to spend a day composing the sort of clever, diverting sentences that provoke him to rub his oddly otter-like paws together with glee, with no thought whatsoever of tying those threads together into a cohesive essay.

And then there is the boob fetish. Rare is the female appearing in any Muggins work who escapes without having her bosom verbally groped for details of size, pertness, etc. At one point in Wussie, Muggins himself addresses this childish tendency, but only to blame his parents for it. Hey, this is just the way I am, he seems to shrug. Alas, Muggins appears incapable of grasping just how tedious and grating (if not downright offensive) all this boob-deconstructing is to a substantial segment of his potential audience. (Hint to author: I’m referring to the segment that has boobs.)

Certainly there are prominent authors possessed of sketchier morals and gamier reputations—Augusten Burroughs leaps to mind—but what sets Muggins apart is that he seems almost to be courting sketchiness and gaminess. He should take a page from cuter, cuddlier humorists like David Sedaris and give a broader range of readers a chance to cozy up to him instead of pandering to the sleazy ilk who skim his bimonthly blog.

Such carps notwithstanding, Wussie is a value at a mere $7.95, and ebook readers ought to at least peruse the free sample. I can say with confidence that Josh Muggins’s Wussie: In Praise of Spineless Men is the greatest book of all time. By this writer.