Joseph Braun is your average red-blooded American man: He craves fame, respect and true love. And hell do anything to get them, even if it means creating a false identity and humiliating himself on reality TV. Joe styles himself as Jeb, a brooding but honorable guy, in order to get on a new series called The Virgin, in which contestants have a chance to deflower an enigmatic woman named Madison. The shows sleazy premise is entirely plausible, especially in light of Whos Your Daddy, Foxs recent reality special featuring an adopted woman who got a chance to guess which contestant was her birth father (and win $100,000).
Barmack nails the intricacies of the reality dating show conventions, from the OTF ("on the fly") confessionals the producers extract from the men to the excruciating interpersonal dynamics among the bachelors. ("Were trying to act normal, but none of our conversations have any pace, and so when the Fat Guy cracks a joke that ends, Oh baby, thats what Im talking about, we all chuckle.") The novels most amusing gimmick is Barmacks parody of a fan Web site (à la Televisionwithoutpity.com) that offers sarcastic episode summaries while mercilessly mocking the participants especially Jeb, who exudes all the negative charisma of a nervous, sweaty weasel.
Unfortunately, The Virgin cant resist hamming up the narration, constantly spelling out Joe/Jebs self-professed flaws in slick prose. And following reality TVs own penchant for surprises, the novel churns out a number of spurious plot twists. That includes a Virgin who has her own problems, the most minor of which is that shes run out of money while trying to finish a dissertation on the Salem witch trials. In the end, The Virgin suffers the fate of the shows it sends up: entertaining but disposable.
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THE VIRGIN | By ERIK BARMACK | St. Martins Griffin, 244 pages | $12.95 paperback