Thursday, May 10, 2012

The day you take on a real job with real responsibilities, that's the day you're done writing

When exactly did the beta-male, as Christopher Moore dubs them, become a thing? In books, I mean. Is this a backlash against the capable, competent manly men of years past, with some examples that I can't think of at the moment. Walter in The Woman in White was sort of that. At least that's what Collins was going for. Whatever the reason, I like the beta-male characters. Those alpha males are too confident for me. Give me the insecure, self-deprecating guy. I mean, there's a reason I love Jesse Eisenberg.
Nerd suave
With this in mind I'd like to talk about Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. Tom Violet is a wanna be author currently working a job he hates, writing company press releases. He's having some bedroom problems with his wife, who currently wants to have another kid. And on top of all of this his dad just won the Pulitzer for Fiction. Le sigh.

I really enjoyed this. Sure, it's somewhat predictable. Marital trouble? Check. Unsatisfied at work? Check. Dysfunctional relationship with a parent? Check. But it's the characters themselves that made the story. Tom is hilarious, which is good because the book is from his point of view so if I didn't like him the book would have been a slog. And his father is a force, running through marriages and liquor. I thought there would be more tension between father and son, but while their relationship isn't very conventional there is a lot of love there. Maybe not exactly "talk about our feelings" love, but more of "break into my ex-wife's/my house to pick up a change of clothes" type love.

There are moments of drama that were surprisingly touching. When so much of the is so sarcastically funny the serious moments can seem insincere, or at least melodramatic but they worked here. I wasn't tearing up but the scenes felt honest. And this was a quick read, one that drew me in. I didn't want to have to put the book down and head into the office*.

I was going to say my primary complaint is that the female characters aren't as fleshed out as Tom ans his father Curtis. However I realized none of the other characters are that fleshed out so I suppose the complaint his only the two main characters are fully realized. And this is really a small complaint because I didn't really think of it until I started typing this up. Besides my favorite character his Curtis's agent's son Brandon, who isn't much more than the sassy gay New Yorker but I loved whenever he was on the page.

I can see this being a book I re-read. It's a funny, quick read, a good book to read in between some of the more draining books. If you like the beta-male trope, along the lines of a Jonathan Tropper or Nick Hornby, this is worth a look.

*There's a part in the book where Tom describes how his job has these interns whose job is just to constantly monitor Google alerts to see if their company is mentioned. He talks about how ridiculous and boring this job must be. A good portion of my job involves helping people do EXACTLY that. And I have to say, I'm happy I'm not the one who has to actually do the monitoring.

Title quote from page 65

Norman, Matthew. Domestic Violets. Harper Perennial, 2011.