Matthew Norman’s gone the full Tropper* in his second novel, We’re All Damaged. It’s lad-lit (so expect laughs) but it also has plenty of feels.
The story focuses on Andy Carter, who we first meet as he’s being stood-up on a blind date –
“…she arrived, took one look at me sitting here, and bolted. I can talk to this guy for the next few hours, she could very well have thought. Or I can go home and put on some Crest Whitestrips and watch The Bachelorette.”
Andy’s life has changed from contended Midwesterner with a solid job in insurance and the love-of-his-life wife, to single-guy living in New York, bar-tending to make ends meet. Turns out the love-of-his-life preferred the handsome paramedic down the street.
Andy returns to his hometown to say good-bye to his dying grandfather. His visit means confronting the past and dealing with new problems, including his outspoken radio-host mother, his parents’ crumbling marriage, and the mysterious Daisy, who claims to be his grandfather’s friend. Young, attractive Daisy decides that she is the person to help Andy get over his ex. They first meet in the self-help section of a bookshop –
“I wasn’t prepared to hear the word vagina this evening. Up front at the register, Gayle, apparently, wasn’t, either. She clears her throat and gives us a librarian look. That’s the thing about the word vagina: it really carries in a quiet place.”
There are a number of sub-plots in this story, some constructed to give emotional depth, some included purely for laughs. There’s subtlety and sarcasm in Norman’s brand of humour, as well as lots of excellent pop-culture references that will appeal to his demographic –
“He reaches for the volume knob. But instead of turning it down, he actually turns it up. It’d be a pretty rebellious little statement if the song playing were anything other than ‘ The Safety Dance’ by Men Without Hats.”
I do wonder whether the story would have been more realistic if Norman had pared back a couple of sub-plots – his humorous writing and emotional quandaries are strong enough to carry the story. The addition of extras such as unhinged security guards and paintball squirrels stretch plausibility. That said, Norman delivers the laughs with ease and although there are a handful of scenes angled for jokes, it never feels forced.
3/5 Perhaps a little stingy but I couldn’t help but compare it to Norman’s outstanding debut, Domestic Violets.
I received my copy of We’re All Damaged from the publisher, Little A, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Andy and Daisy go out for ice cream. Andy wants vanilla, Daisy insists on pistachio nutmeg –
“I take a few bites of my ice cream, and it tastes every bit as unnecessary as it sounds.”
Head to Love & Lemons for pistachio ice cream.
*authors probably hate being compared to other authors but honestly, it’s high praise when it comes to lad-lit.