The Lay of LaLa-Land
A shy, hopeless romantic, Lenny Moral enters his sophomore year of college resigned to his virginity. So it comes as a great surprise to Lenny when Jane, a seemingly sweet, innocent girl, approaches him at a bar one night and takes him home. But Lenny, whose self-deprecation often borders on self-loathing, can’t understand what Jane sees in him, and he’s convinced she must be damaged in some way. His fears are realized when he reads an article about her in a porn magazine, except she’s not Jane, she’s Fortune, and she wants to have sex with 500 men in a single day. Lenny, a psych major, decides that he’s the only one who can save her, but if he’s going to stop her from going through with the world’s largest gang-bang, he first needs to figure out who molested her as a child.
Lenny’s attitude towards sex is endearingly innocent, searching as he does for intimacy in a look, rather than a touch, but his unchallenged assumption is that all porn stars were sexually abused as children. That this is, at the very least, dubious (even before a brief Google search reveals that the correlation between childhood sexual abuse and porn is difficult to establish, common sense would suggest that surely there must be at least one adult actress for whom porn is an expression of sexuality or even just a job, rather than an unconscious reaction to childhood molestation) doesn’t stop Lenny from surreptitiously deploying his three semesters of undergrad psych to find out who raped Jane. One such attempt at psychologizing backfires on Lenny, as Jane uses his own line of questioning against him and somehow tricks him into admitting that he’d rather be molested by Rush Limbaugh than Brad Pitt.
The book is written almost as a detective story, with a straightforward plot and a narrator in search of information he believes is the key to everything. Much of the book takes place during the week of Thanksgiving, although even in such a short timespan, things move so quickly that it occasionally feels like scenes are missing. For instance, when Jane takes Lenny home for Thanksgiving to meet her parents, the two have only known each other a few days. But, still, the story is buoyed by the self-conscious charm of Lenny — for such a weak man, he does display a strong narrative voice. Glossing over his own sketchy sexual history — which includes accidentally peeping on his naked father, after which he was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital as punishment — he, instead, peppers the book with euphemisms for “penis,” referring to it as his “penile region,” “region of the groin,” “medial compartment of the thigh,” and his “Leaning Tower of Penis” – all of which perhaps confirm his stunted sexuality. In prose pulsing with emotion, Mr. Miles portrays Lenny as a young man struggling with not just his long-unfulfilled sexual desire, but also a more fundamental need for meaningful interaction. If the plot is occasionally a tad outlandish, that’s only because the feelings erupting out of Lenny are, for him, equally surreal and unchecked. For the reader, Lenny is most pitiful — and most relatable — as he channels these feelings into a desperate journey to explain Jane’s actions, withholding his love for her until she opens up to him, never stopping to consider that she won’t open up to him as long as he withholds his love for her. What’s so tragic about Lenny is that he goes looking for love, but settles for sex.