Harper Perennial, Trade Original
Matthew Norman’s characters remind me of Lit Life by Kurt Wenzel, almost. Where Lit Life lost its edge, Domestic Violets comes to life with a realistically poignant sorrow mixed with resignation. At the heart of this story is a writer who can’t get it up. He has whiskey dick, except he is not drinking or having sex. I laughed so hard when I read this first page, and you will too.
Tom is the son of legendary novelist Curtis Violet. Curtis is fading into the sunset, and stopping on his way out to pick up a Pulitzer prize. In his wake, Curtis has left a landslide of ex-wives and lovers. He is the kind of guy who can ruin a picnic by just getting out of the car. Curtis shows up early on, when Tom is mid-stroke (not that kind of stroke, the other kind), and doesn’t really leave the story until the end. Tom is working as a copywriter all day, and fulfilling other people’s dreams, and in several Then We Came To The End moments, Tom does something truly liberating, and I am not talking about taking the hot office candy down to the 7-11 for a Big Gulp.
Tom’s voice is so pure and crystalized with sorrow and desperation, that this story reminds me of a fully grown Richard Yates. It is like Revolutionary Road, not the book. I mean it is similar, but it is more like the movie. I always imagine books as movies when I read them. In RR there is a scene that will cut anyone down, it is the moment when and outside force arrives on the Wheelers and tells them exactly what it is, what they are not and what, to be honest they will never get free of. They are desperate, and making excuses for doing what they are doing, not what they want. Tom is making that excuse, over and over, and his life is passing him by. He knows from desperation. He knows it so very well. This novel brings life to that feeling and it is really great to see.
There are women in this story too. They almost get as much face time as Tom and Curtis. Mr. Norman captures man’s hapless glee, and he does it through the women. It is very interesting. All the wives and girlfriends, children and office candy, seem to be the sense talkers of the story. Curtis Violet rips through the book, dragging his son around like a dog that has been left tied to the bumper of his hot little Porsche. The overriding engine of the book is a Pulitzer Prize, and how it makes everyone envious or exhausted. While we wait for Curtis to get this award, various women pop up to show Tom and Curtis just how silly their whims are. Tom thinks his wife is getting the high hard one from a mysterious man, and Curtis is actually bedding everything that slows down long enough to take a look at the car crash.
Of course Tom is writing a novel, and Mr. Norman captures that process of self-loathing perfectly. Tom is lunging at greatness, or at least lurching out of the shadow of greatness. Along the way, Mr. Norman takes a few bearded shots at several modern day literary icons. All of the “publishing business” business is not insider, but very funny and cool to read and adds a great tone to a fantastic ride. Or should I say, a rollercoaster ride of awesome!