First and foremost, there are events in this book that could be triggers for some. Therefore, a big fat PLEASE NOTE I am giving you a “Trigger Warnings Ahead” right up front.
Fraternity: Stories by Benjamin Nugent was a reader copy just sitting around. People picked it up, put it down. It moved from one place to another. I finally picked it up the day I forgot my book at my desk (I was in the lunchroom, three floors up, which sounds like a big deal, but really isn’t. I was just really lazy that day). Besides, I thought, if I do not like it, I don’t have to finish. But that first story made me sit up and say, “Well that’s a kick in the pants. “
The first story is a about one of the established frat brothers of Delta. His nickname is Oprah. He asks questions, people feel comfortable talking to him. He has a crush on one of the other brothers. And that guy, Nutella, has a thing for a girl. A girl so lovely and amazing, he can’t “get it up” for her. This, and other reasons, makes them call her God. God can bring down a man. She did Nutella (the “big nice man on campus”) by her power and her poem about their experience (or lack of). She brings down another brother, too. But it becomes a badge of honor of sorts: no mere mortal can have God. And Oprah knows the only way he can have Nutella, is to have God. This contradiction actually makes sense! The ending of it was the only possible ending (to say the least, things don’t work out well). And that is one of the reasons why this collection is puzzling, amazing and horrible.
There is good writing for every story included. However, not everyone is good. Even the good are not good. But not everyone is bad. Each story is thought provoking. (Warning) there are at least two stories that deal with rape. And was it actually rape. One would think that was an easy answer, but the way Nugent presents it, there could be a lot of gray: There was game they were playing, and it just might have gotten out of hand, but he didn’t mean to hurt her. And Nugent also asks, “Can a guy rape a girl as she is raping him, a little?”
There are the jerk frat boys. There is Ollie who thinks if it’s “all good” and everyone is always performing, on his college campus, how can anyone rebel? There are self-righteous feminists. There are a couple of frat bothers who either take a magic-carpet ride or entered the Twilight Zone. There is also the drug-taking-dealer-gamer-couch-hopping gal who just wants her girlfriend to let her spend the night, after all they love each other, right? Not to mention the old frat-brother, now a Seal, who saw a real Hell Week (and tells his “new brothers” what real torture is: by being nice to a guy). Some characters show up in other stories (sometimes as a main character such as Nutella who has a story after graduation and Ollie finds a way to rebel with Oprah), but each is its own standalone story.
This book is screwed up, amazing, should be taught in college classes. Once you experience it you can never unexperienced it. Yet, you just might be thankful you did experience it.