I read The Game when I was 18 years old.
It was my first Neil Strauss book, which came to me after I had already learned enough about hypnotism to decide it was bogus. Back then, I viewed humans as rational creatures who make their decisions by rationally weighing the alternahahaha okay. It was a long time ago, give me a break.
I now understand that a person with the right training can subtly alter your reality without you knowing. So I am wary of reading Strauss’s new book, which wears a title that should immediately send your skepticism to high alert.
As The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships rests gently on my piano, I recognize that Strauss has all the tools he needs to insert or delete a belief from my head. A writer and a hypnotist? I only know a few of those. And despite studying this subject for years, persuasion is still hard to avoid.
But I know from experience that if I give myself something to do on the journey, my mind will be more alert. I’ll notice more. So this blog will be my tool. If you want to come along for the ride, I’ll take notes on persuasion in The Truth, as practice for another, bigger book coming later this year.
I’m only a few pages in, and I’ve already spotted what looks like a few maneuvers from Strauss. A friend has a pet theory that he may be “undoing” some of The Game. So I’ll report as I go. Keep in mind, this could be entirely confirmation bias — even when persuasion isn’t an intentional component of good writing, it is always a byproduct.
If you are also a student of persuasion, I invite your interpretation of this presentation. Tweet me.
And one more thing: I’m going to truncate as much as possible. I like Strauss and I want to give away as little of his book’s content as possible. Off we go.
Before the dedication
The book starts with a summary, of sorts, about the book. It is titled, “FULL DISCLOSURE”, explains that the book covers 4 years of his life, and characters are as good as anonymous. But Strauss sneaks in a presupposition, look:
“In order to compress [the book] into a manageable length, reduce the complexity, get at the truth of relationships, and preserve anonymity, incidents, people, locations and situations […] have been changed.”
The italicized part slips right into the reader’s mind. Hidden. But most people start to believe a bit more of what he says afterwards. And then he has a sort of “thinking past the sale” moment:
“If you are reading this and believe you recognize yourself, think again. Your story is the same as that of most others in this book: You cheated and got caught.”
This one’s a doozy. It confirms the self-recognition that will happen to most readers anyway regardless of which book you’re reading. “Think again,” he says, before tying you down to a frame: “Your story is the same as that of most others in this book” (moving you past the sale…). “You cheated and got caught.”
And sold. Primed for the future, and maybe he just made you feel guilty. (I might be doing it to you right now?)
After the dedication, before the table of contents
Strauss starts us with this quote: “People are made to need each other, but they haven’t learned to live with each other.” – Rainer Werner Fassbinder in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. A heart sits on the opposite page, white on black.
This quote is wildly vague, as transportable quotes tend to be*. But the two clauses are enough to highlight dissonance. The heart symbolism works with the quote to set the tone. It leads you to remember a situation that could apply within the frame of love and relationships, especially because that’s all there is on the page. (If anyone cares to speculate on the importance of color, this section is almost all white-on-black. Suggesting duality, or a binary frame, maybe?)
Some notes from “Stage I: Wounded Child”
Page 8. The first character Strauss has dialogue with mentions The Game. This might look like a nod to his long-time fans, but to me it looks like priming. If he was going to undo some of The Game, this would be the way to do it. (We discover soon after that Strauss is heading to a rehab centre for sex addiction.)
Page 9. Since I will link this to one or more friends who work as therapists, I am curious about this paragraph:
“They say that when you meet someone and feel like it’s love at first sight, run in the other direction. All that’s happened is that your dysfunction has meshed with their dysfunction. Your wounded inner child has recognized their wounded inner child, both hoping to be healed by the same fire that burned them.”
This seems like a doozy to ignore. It’s super vague — plenty of room for confirmation bias to fill in the gaps. It’s probably happening already. (Consider that “love at first sight” implies you fall before speaking or shortly after, which is hardly enough time to notice someone’s underlying emotional history. I doubt it.)
Page 12, important: Strauss mentions The Game again to segue an introduction to what he wants you to think about during The Truth. He writes that The Game is about, “Why don’t women I like ever like me back?” before moving to a new frame in the next paragraph, which he calls a “tougher” life dilemma: “What should I do after she likes me back?”
Again, angling what the reader will think about during the book.
I wish I didn’t have to do this, but the next paragraph is right in between that^^ and a bit that got my full attention. So I imagine this paragraph is important too. If there’s anything important going on, let me know. For now, you can admire his sequence of nouns. Pay attention to how the words feel as they lead to the end of the sentences.
He says, “Like love itself, the path to answer this question will be anything but logical. The unintended consequences of my infidelity will lead me to free-love communes, to modern-day harems, and to scientists, swingers, sex anorexics, priestesses, leather families, former child actors, miracle healers, murderers, and, most terrifying of all, my mother. It will challenge and ultimately revolutionize everything I thought I knew about relationships–and myself.”
Seems important to the journey.
Next, this short paragraph is a gigantic tell for Strauss’s intentions and understanding of humans. He’s not saying it plainly elsewhere so far. But he does here.
“ If you’re interested in getting more out of this odyssey for yourself, notice the words and concepts that most excite or repel you. Each gut reaction tells a story. It is a story about who you are and what you believe.  Because, all too often, the things that we’re the most resistant to are precisely what we need. And the things we’re most scared to let go of are exactly the ones we need to relinquish.”
 This part gives you an enormous look into Strauss’s body of knowledge. I don’t know if he’s formally trained in hypnosis, but I know he has read a fair number of books by Bandler — he mentions Frogs Into Princes directly in The Game. So he probably has the “three dimensional” perspective on belief and emotions.
This part also hints at Strauss’s intentions. He wants you to notice what’s within you. Whether or not he intentionally makes changes, I don’t know. (I might not be learned enough to spot it.)
 Presupposition, presupposition. But I agree anyway (?!). These two sentences do a lot of work.
Page 14: Reminder, Strauss’s character is going to sex addict rehab. This quote happens while he checks in. “But I stay quiet. And I submit. Like a good cheater.” Humorous/sexy undertones firing on all cylinders.
Page 15: I marked this part more for “evidence” of Strauss’s learned talents. The dialogue reads,
“Do you have any homicidal thoughts?” [the nurse] asks.
“No.” And in that moment, I think of a homicidal thought. It’s like saying, “Don’t think of a pink elephant.”
This isn’t rare knowledge by any means, but the greater pattern, he is surely aware of.
Page 16: I think I only noticed this part because of my friend’s reaction as I read it to her. She reacted as if I had said it to her myself, though I was only reading it aloud. But it made me think of the “Say it in quotes” method I learned from Erickson or Bandler.
I ask [the nurse] if she thinks I’m really an addict. “I’m not an addiction specialist,” she says. “But if you’re cheating on your relationship, if you’re visiting porn sites, or if you’re masturbating, that’s sex addiction.”
My friend remarked in agreement.
Page 16 again: I recall that the reader will do presented mental exercises along with the character. In this case, the nurse presents Strauss a list of emotions and asks, “Which ones are you feeling right now?”
JOY, PAIN, LOVE, ANGER, PASSION, FEAR, GUILT, SHAME
Strauss selects one. The reader does too.
I’ll write more about this if there is interest. I can watch for particular things too if you tell me what to look for (and how).
*See “Impossible to Ignore” in the Persuasion Reading List.