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The Virgin


The Virgin

Jeb, the primary narrator of THE VIRGIN, is confident, sardonic and
clever. He's also the invention of a confused schlep named Joseph
Braun. Jeb is Joseph's attempt to escape his own dispassionate
self-loathing and become famous in the bargain. "I guess you could
say that I more or less hate myself, but you could make an argument
that I hate other people more."

At the opening of the novel, Joseph (in his Jeb persona) is well on
his way to making the cast of a new reality TV show called "The
Virgin." He and nineteen other men will compete to sleep with a
beautiful 26-year-old virgin named Madison. As Andrew Weinberg, the
show's malevolent producer, says, "The Virgin wants you. And if
you're charming, she'll give you what you've always wanted. And
together you will give America what it's always wanted ...
innocence, romance and sex."

Jeb is convinced that a dose of fame and fortune will change his
life. But Joseph can't quite banish his true, insecure self. During
the course of the show, he's often reduced in the presence of The
Virgin to stuttering and ultimately silence. Yet he keeps making
the cut. As readers we become aware that "the cut" is largely
rigged, that something is a little off about Madison (her missives
to a mysterious Mitch are interspersed with Joseph/Jeb's somewhat
whiny narrative), that most of the contestants --- surprise! ---
don't really give a damn about Madison. Jeb does; he wants to help
her. He hangs in there long enough for a narrow brush with the
secret plot twist that lurks in all Weinberg productions. And long
enough for Beach Girl, a bikini clad model employed to lounge
around in a hotel terrarium, to finally say, "I know who you

Does this complete him? One has doubts. Frankly it's difficult to
care about this passive-aggressive character who doesn't know what
he cares about, and if he did, wouldn't tell you. "It's hard to
explain. And you wouldn't understand, anyway." That said, there are
some very clever and funny bits in the novel. When Jeb isn't
navel-gazing, his observations are quirky and rich. Here's his take
on a bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan: "The girl with
peacock glasses. The guy wearing a Midwood soccer jersey. The
hipster in red paratrooper pants. The disheveled guy, the one
working on the Brighton Beach radio documentary and blah blah

But my favorite parts were the episode summaries by the
mysteriously identified "R. Scherb and the Uncanny Lisa E." Their
thoroughly vicious, gemlike chapters were a welcome antidote to
Jeb's morose self-analysis. "Madison is running around
pretending to care about everyone. Meanwhile, Nova and Jeb rush to
give her gifts. It's as though they're screaming, "please like me!"
Does anyone else suspect that these two were caned in
" If I could pose one question to Mr. Barmack it
would be: Where is R. Scherb and Lisa E.'s episode summary of the
season finale? The one where we learn ... never mind.

Who is better equipped to review THE VIRGIN --- a fan or a critic
of reality TV? In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that
reading about it is as close as I've ever gotten. The book is
billed as a satire of the reality show industry, but it appeals to
some of the same tarnished sides of our psyches: prurience,
misogyny, and guilty fascination with the depths to which humans
will sink for money and fame. In any case, putting aside any
expectations about meaningful insights into the human condition,
THE VIRGIN is compulsively readable and clever enough.

Wait, did I say meaningful insights and reality TV in the same

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 24, 2011

The Virgin
by Erik Barmack

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 031233513X
  • ISBN-13: 9780312335137