Warning: don’t read this book after you’ve had abdominal surgery. I laughed so much that I feared I’d undo my surgeon’s handiwork.
My first thought when I began reading Matthew Norman’s debut novel, Domestic Violets, was ‘surely he’s not an American’ – the style of humour was altogether too cutting, too sarcastic and too dry – much more like what I’d expect from an Australian or British author. Needless to say, I liked it. Very much (and yes, Norman is American).
Domestic Violets is the story of Tom Violet, a regular guy. Tom always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day. The reality, though, is far different.
“Like most men who are not Brad Pitt, I could do without the sight of my own nudity.”
Tom has a wife, but there are problems. He’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. He’s got a dog…with acute anxiety.
“‘How have you been, dear?’ Helen asks. I decide not to tell her about the erectile dysfunction, the recent layoffs at my company, how my dad has taken to smoking pot in my extra bedroom, or how my hands smell like French Fries even though I’ve washed them three times. ‘Oh, you know,’ I say. ‘Not too bad.'”
Norman’s treatment of the relationships between Tom and the other characters is spot-on. His light touch combined with accurate real-life insights quickly turned me, as the reader, into Tom’s cheerleader.
It’s worth noting that Tom does and feels some things that aren’t exactly admirable but with all that is going on in his life, you can’t help barracking for him. Norman achieves this in a clever way – the other characters are likeable rogues, well-meaning blokes and normal women. It’s too easy to create a one-dimensional, predictable character that is the ‘enemy’. Instead, Norman’s characters are that perfect, exasperating kind of person that you want to hang-out with one minute and then give a stingy-slap to the next.
“One of the annoying things about friendship is that there are these people in your life who can call you on your bullshit at any given moment.”
Norman’s humour comes across as effortless, the jokes seamlessly integrated into the text. If there’s one thing I can’t stand in humourous writing is the building of a sentence or paragraph around a gag (a la Kathy Lette). Don’t miss the end notes from Norman where he discusses the concept that all first novels are autobiographical and also tells of his experiences at two particular author talks – hilarious.
Tom Violet’s father, Curtis, drinks his way through this book and I could suggest working through a bar alphabetically as you read this book. However, there is one scene with mojitos and brawling authors that is priceless, so get out the rum, the lime juice and the mint leaves.
4/5 A stellar read, edging a five out of five. Can’t wait to see what comes next from Norman (an appropriate comment in context of the story).