Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book review: 'Guts' by Robert Nylen

12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, June 2, 2009

By EDWARD NAWOTKA / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News 
Edward Nawotka is a Houston freelance writer. 

Robert Nylen completed his memoir Guts shortly before he died of colorectal cancer in December. He was 64. A lifelong ad salesman, Nylen understood the power of words to persuade and so he chose not to dignify his disease with a proper name, opting to call it by a nickname that can't be printed in a family newspaper.

As you might expect, the disease doesn't get top billing in the book. He focuses on his combat experience in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded "two-and-a-half" times, and his various business ventures: He was once vice president and associate publisher of Texas Monthly and later founded, despite being neither "spiritual nor religious," just "sanctimonious." 

Throughout, Nylen meditates on modern manhood and, in particular, on the meaning of the word "tough," a word he calls a "fittingly compact fortress." 

The final fifth is given over to documenting the progress of his cancer, diagnosed in 2004, and the many, often difficult, treatments. As his body declines, he relates moments of humility (some comic, some sad) and he becomes more contemplative – analyzing the work of Susan Sontag (who also wrote about and died of cancer), and flirting with the idea of Stoicism (which he rejects because he believed the Stoics favored man-boy homosexuality). 

By the end, Nylen comes to believe the highest virtue is a willingness to go all-out, not in the sense of "superlative adspeak," but in the sense of being resilient, of taking responsibility for the course of one's own life, doing what's right and living each day as if it's the last, no matter what the situation. 

Edward Nawotka is a Houston freelance writer.


Combat, Hell-raising, Cancer, Business Start-ups and Undying Love: One American Guy's Reckless, Lucky Life 

Robert Nylen 

(Random House, $25)

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