'The Real Animal House' relies on perverse shock tactics

by Matt Ritger | 11/13/06 6:00am

Welcome to the world of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity in 1960, where brains scraped from the windshield of a car wreck are a perfect ingredient for the house brew, where the greatest achievement in recent memory was a brother who could shake quarters out of his foreskin, and where urination, defecation and masturbation make up the Holy Trinity.

Chris Miller '63 brings this "awesomely depraved" world to light in his new memoir, "The Real Animal House." Miller is one of the screenwriters of the titular movie that made the Dartmouth fraternity scene so notorious. Now, Miller has returned to rehash the glory days in lurid detail.

The memoir relies heavily on bombarding the reader with shock tactics, endless profanity and revolting anecdote after revolting anecdote. Almost everyone will find something to take offense to in this most politically incorrect memoir (racism, sexism, homophobia -- the gang's all here!). Of course, these issues aren't even a blip on the radar in the hilarity of this romping adventure.

Believe it or not, one's virginity was once a tough thing to lose on the Dartmouth campus.

In 1960, with such a dearth of women in the pre-coed days, the brothers of AD were driven nearly insane with sexual frustration. Even when describing the beauty of spring on the Dartmouth campus, Miller's language reveals the mindset:

"The buds exploded into a multitude of creamy white blooms... As if Mother Nature had been giving the tree a root job, and it had just come."

For Dartmouth students of course, the book provides endless entertainment. There are many references to what remains unchanged about this institution (Dick's House, Thayer, the Sphinx and several other fraternities make appearances). The lovely perfume of sweat, urine and stale beer that wafts from the basement of AD apparently hasn't changed either.

Despite the saving graces of sex, alcohol and rock n' roll, the book soon begins to unravel. The memoir makes its irrevocable mistake when, after the first seven chapters, the narration changes from first person to third. In his introduction, Miller claims that this switch was necessary after joining AD, because his new brothers' "experiences were my experiences and vice versa."

Nonetheless, from this point onward, the reader loses all touch with the conflicted narrator who considered not rushing a frat at all, and is henceforth presented with nothing more than a directionless tale of beer, masturbation, booting and the endless quest for sex.

The book's cast of characters starts to feel more like a reeling merry-go-round of caricatures by the halfway mark. After the first 150 pages of beer and booting, the reader seems lost on an alien planet, devoid of human life.

The characters in this book are more myth than man, and Miller provides no insights. Instead, the apathetic anecdotes are piled one on top of the other, revealing at least a dozen ways to boot and "nine ways to excite your date with a garden hoe," but nothing of any substance about these men.

One of the only well-drawn figures is the senior Otter, whose girlfriend Gay Tabiggatits (pronounced "Ta-bigga-tits" by the ADs) tries in vain to tame his depraved behavior. Otter is at least slightly conflicted about his outlandish life, wondering at one point "how much longer he would think this was cool."

There is absolutely -- perhaps thankfully -- no depth at all to this book. Miller doesn't even take aim at the "virtue of brotherhood" or any other clichd message that the reader might expect. In fact, he admits to enjoying the company of several of his brothers only when they're drunk, and come June he realizes he isn't likely to see any of his graduating brothers ever again.

"The Real Animal House" functions completely on one level (or maybe two, if you count the basement and the first floor) and when taken as such, is a hilarious read.