Neal Pollack's funny first book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, satirized the kind of self- congratulatory, advertorial magazine writing that has become the house style for all glossy media. He followed this promising debut with a flabby sophomore book that didn't so much poke holes in music clichés as wallow in them. And then he began writing the same kind of drivel that he was parodying a few years before. Alternadad was a dunderheaded memoir about Pollack's attempts to stay "cool" while becoming a father, and now he has published Stretch, a memoir about his life as a practitioner of yoga.
A passage near the beginning of Stretch warns us of Pollack's further deterioration as a writer. Early in his yoga life, he was very gassy:
If I felt a loud one moving toward my anus, I tightened my perineal muscles and willed it away... If I absolutely had to cut loose, I tried to let it out slowly and subtly, with a nice hiss. That didn't always work, though, and little plopping sounds would emerge.
Elsewhere, he brags about how his perineum has become "one of the strongest parts" of his body. Clearly, this is a man who believes that his own asshole is fascinating. Every page of Stretch oozes with smarmy self-interest as Pollack becomes more and more involved with yoga. For example: Did you know that yoga is not just for chicks and homos? It's true, brah! Even manly men like Pollack can get into it: "I'd expected poses with flouncy names, like laughing daisy, or bejeweled vagina, or the infamous happy baby that I'd heard about. Instead, I got masculine ones like warrior and cobra..." One can almost see the Pollack of 10 years ago rolling his eyes at the faux-macho everydude posing of a soft bourgeois media-elite wannabe.
The thing is, if Pollack had just written an entry-level yoga guide for men who are nervous about yoga, an inoffensive book that women would buy for their nervous boyfriends, that would have been fine. But Pollack can't stop himself from puffing up the story with a ridiculous, unbelievable goal in mind (he's purportedly trying to find his "best self," as though yoga is going to make him a better person instead of a douche who does yoga all the time, which—spoiler alert!—is what he becomes), and then he spends the last half of the book trying to find the best ending for the book (traveling to India to study under a yoga master and becoming a yoga teacher are briefly considered for their narrative splash and then deemed too difficult for poor Mr. Pollack, who decides to junketeer at a yoga convention and go to a yoga retreat instead).
Pollack's unfortunate turn to memoir—complete with the now-requisite memoirist's complaint that the poor dear just can't seem to hold down a "normal" job like everyone else—completes his transition from parodist to self-parody. In the beginning, he pointed at assholes and mocked them. Now he has become the asshole, with a body of work that includes a book about how to become a father who is also an asshole and how to become a yoga-practicing asshole. One can only hope that with the skills he has learned in the writing of Stretch, he has become so flexible that he can now crawl up his own asshole and disappear forever.