Indeed, as Prioleau ticks off the things she believes essential to successful seduction, the list becomes a roll call of characteristics commonly assumed to be “feminine.” Among these are vulnerability (“a hairline crack in a man’s aplomb, a hint of vulnerability — either physical or psychological — can turn a woman inside out”), passion (“as a rule, women like their lovers, real and imaginary, charged up”) and sensitivity (“a radar for other people’s feelings”). These of course are the same characteristics commonly found in the heroic males of paperback-romance novels, presumably because the authors of these novels understand that their readers want to see themselves — or, probably more accurately, their fantasies about themselves — reflected in what they read.
Other characteristics that Prioleau claims to detect in the successful man about bedrooms include intensity, bravery, brains and skill at conversation — a skill much enhanced if the gentleman in question also possesses a bedroom voice. Again, our hero: “Along with his way with words, Casanova had another conversational gift that made him irresistible to women: his sonorous voice with its seductive inflections.” If that voice was also adept at the art of song, a la Frank Sinatra, all the better: “Although a difficult man by any gauge — subject to temper tantrums, mood swings and capricious no-shows — he was a love pasha. To seduce a woman, he would lean back in a chair, hot-eye her and sing, ‘I’ve Got a Crush on You.’ ”
The trouble with hauling Sinatra into the case is that he completely disproves it. Beautiful though his voice most certainly was, he was a thug from top to toe. He didn’t respect women and probably didn’t even like them: They were objects, pure and simple. He may have been a great seducer, but the only vulnerability he showed was in his voice. He seduced women with that and his fame, not with any of those “feminine” characteristics Prioleau is so eager to fix upon her heroes.
Littered though it is with footnotes citing everything from Ovid to Gail Sheehy, “Swoon” is largely a product of the author’s rather fevered imagination. No doubt there are many women who have succumbed to men who fit her highly romanticized portrait, but plenty of women have also fallen for, or been taken advantage of by, men who fit “the overt stereotypes — the satanic seducer, Darwinian stud, player, and couples’ therapy heartthrob” she is at such pains to disallow. Though she goes to great lengths to depict her Casanovas as men who not only like and respect women, indeed are themselves richly imbued with “feminine” traits, what it comes down to is that they use women for their own pleasure even as, at least in some cases, they give those women pleasure along the way.
Serial seducers — for when you get right down to it, that’s what these guys are — are not half so admirable as Prioleau fancies them to be, though doubtless many other men find them entirely enviable. That, however, is another subject, perhaps for another book, one hopes a better one than “Swoon.”