The Blurb On The Back:
astroturf is about Ned, 30, disappointed with himself and bored with life, who starts to use anabolic steroids to bulk himself up.
You won’t believe what happens next.
You can order Astroturf by Matthew Sperling from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK. I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
30-year-old website designer Ned feels like his life is going nowhere. His girlfriend, Grace, broke up with him 3 months earlier, he lives in a basement bedsit where’s he constantly subjected to the noise of the pipes and he isn’t particularly motivated at work. The problem is that he can’t commit to anything, giving up too easily and letting his life continue in its never ending rut.
Then one day Ned bumps into Darus, the personal trainer he’d ghosted a year earlier because he got tired of not seeing any real results from their workouts. Darus thinks that the problem was down to Ned’s low testosterone levels and suggests that Ned try anabolic steroids to increase his testosterone levels and allow him to put on muscle more easily.
Ned is at first horrified by the suggestion – after all, don’t anabolic steroids lead to ‘roid rage and tiny testicles, not to mention that steroids are illegal? – but when Darus gives him a link to a forum site called Roidsweb.com and Ned begins to look into it, he comes to think that steroids may be the lifeline he’s been looking for …
Matthew Sperling’s debut novel is a flat-footed, predictable satire that plays out as the ultimate nerd fantasy of an underachiever finally achieving his goals and getting the girls when he uses illegal steroids to up his testosterone. The humour is limp, characterisation thin (especially the women) and Ned a dull and unpleasant protagonist such that while it moves as a fair clip, I am not motivated to check out Sperling’s next book.
I’ll begin by saying that I’m probably not the target audience for this book. It seems aimed at 30-something-men who aren’t happy with their lives but still want to believe they can get the money and the girl on their own terms if they just man up and play the system. And if I seem irritated by that, then that’s because I am. Ned is not a particularly interesting protagonist and as the plot goes through the all-too-predictable motions of having him get one over on the people who try to thwart him and his ex-girlfriend, Grace, I really wanted to see a moment of self-reflection about whether it’s the drugs that helped him find his ambition and motivation or whether he was finally stepping up and taking charge of his situation.
The women are little more than caricatures. Grace is a self-involved, “moderately attractive” child of privilege who likes to criticise Ned and won’t let him have anal sex with her but who, after dumping him, is magically attracted to him again, in part because of the muscles he’s been putting on thanks to the steroids. Alice is dangerously close to being a manic dream pixie girl – a beautiful actress on the cusp of success who is happy to have a no strings, non-exclusive relationship with Ned for reasons and is sexually adventurous and up for it whenever he is.
To be fair, the male characters aren’t much better. Polish Piotr (Ned’s boss) is a sneaky, conniving men’s rights activist on line and exists only to serve as a means for Ned getting one over on his employers. Likewise, Darus (the only black character in the book) is a gym bunny stereotype who isn’t above getting a little nasty when he thinks he can use Ned for his own ends.
Ned himself is flat, dull and uninteresting. His lack of self-reflection and search for easy answers (which, irritatingly, appear to help him get everything he wants) make for a dull read. I certainly wasn’t rooting for him at any stage of the plot and I was particularly irritated by the ease with which he slithers through every roadblock put up for him. I particularly disliked the scenes with his parents – well meaning types who he feels have somehow held him back and who he treats poorly).
The book is supposed to be a satire but I don’t see how it can be when it’s actually a de facto celebration of toxic male culture and a narrow stereotype of masculinity. The humour, for me, was non-existent and I didn’t crack a smile once.
Ultimately I just found this a dull and not particularly enjoyable read and can’t say that I’ll rush to check out Sperling’s next book on the back of it.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.