Best Undressed

A locally set coming-of-age memoir chronicles a boy’s unlikely bond with a playgirl centerfold.


Man of the Year by Lou Cove
Published by Flatiron Books, 320 pages, $27

Lou Cove’s ebullient memoir, a Salem-set account of his eventful 13th year and its aftermath, is full of outrageous elements—such as his time serving as a campaign manager for family friend Howie, an aspiring actor and nude model for Playgirl (Mr. November 1978, in fact), in his quest to become the magazine’s Man of the Year. And wait! On the very first night of Howie and his wife Carly’s extended stay in the Cove household, he shows the whole clan Kodachrome slides of their San Francisco wedding, which had both bride and groom exchanging vows in the nude. Another slide depicts a sex act still mysterious to young Lou.

But hey, it’s the ’70s, and the Coves mostly accept Howie’s free-loving, freewheeling ways, partly because Carly adds such warmth to the scene. She runs discussion groups for women, who share concerns from their sex lives, including the pain that the swingin’ life can bring to a spouse. And the good-natured Howie, all groovy talk and affectionate nicknames, brings cheer and comfort to Lou, who’s trying to find his place in a new town and experiencing normal adolescent attractions and loneliness. But larger troubles loom: Lou’s parents become disconnected and then divorce, saddening our lively lad and darkening his view of his dad, whom he’d idolized. But Howie helps him understand his father better, another lesson in the unusual education we watch unfold.

The colorful characters remain in Lou’s life, as he explains in an affectionate update. Carly, who became a therapist, is still married to Howie, who became an adult film star in the early ’80s. He’s a grandfather now—and fully clothed.

From page 170: Howie and I have not just hit on a path to victory, but the jackpot for being smothered in love gravy. It’s a bonanza of affection that satisfies so many needs. But the warm glow of any success proves challenging to sustain in the midst of a Salem winter. The bricks freeze, the streets empty, and the natives get restless. 

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