Book Score: 3
We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman surprised me by being a really solid book. One of the Amazon reviewers described it as “dude-lit,” and the more I think about it, the more appropriate the description seems.
Andy Carter is a mess. His wife left him, he lost his job, his best friend hates him for ruining his wedding, and he’s moved a thousand miles away from his Omaha hometown — to New York City, no less — in hopes of starting over. So far, he’s only managed to land a job tending bar and get adopted by a stray cat named Jeter.
Then, while in the process of being stood up on a blind date, he gets a call from his mom that his grandfather is dying, and he has to go home. And so begins the madcap adventure. 30-ish Andy is back home living in his recreated bedroom. His right wing talk radio hosting mom’s career has really begun to take off on the coattails of the highly anticipated Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, bringing all sorts of grief to the family along with the rewards. Meanwhile, his retired accountant father shoots paintballs at squirrels. Then there is his ex-wife, taunting and haunting him, and her new beau, “fucking Tyler.” Into this stew waltzes 30-something girl-with-a-past Daisy, a friend of his grandfather and (apparently) an enemy of his mother. Daisy wants nothing more than to help Andy get over his ex and grab a second chance at life. Even if it kills Andy in the process.
The writing is funny is compelling. Yes, the plot is contrived, but it’s supposed to be, sort of like Tim Dorsey without the serial killer. And Norman’s writing style is entertaining enough that you don’t really notice until after the fact, usually with a wait, did that just happen? Consider the scene where Andy is attempting to buy a suit from his former father-in-law, whom Andy punched at his best friend’s (who is also Andy’s ex-wife’s brother) wedding reception. Andy’s solution to the hard feelings ? “What if I let you punch me in the face?”
“Guess what, Neal,” I say. “This actually isn’t about you. Not everything is about you and your precious goddamn wedding reception, OK? Other people have shit going on, too. Like me. I’m here to buy a suit — something nice. Apparently not something European — but something respectable, so I won’t look like a degenerate at my grandpa’s inevitable funeral. But if Jerry here is too big of a pussy to punch me in the face like a man, then I guess I’ll go see Dwayne at Men’s fucking Wear –“
I thought I was ready for it, but I wasn’t. It feels sudden and violent and completely out of nowhere. I’m yelling at Neal, and then fireworks are going off directly in front of my face. And now I’m falling over a rack of dinner jackets.
Thirty minutes later, I’m standing in my underwear in from of a four-way mirror while Neal’s dad measures my inseam. I’ve got a pack of organic frozen blueberries from Trader Joe’s pressed to my face. Jerry made Neal run across the street to get it, which, petty or not, felt like a win.
He’s picked a conservative — but still modern — gray Hugo Boss two-button suit, slim-fitted. “Think of it as half-European,” he says.
Norman can also be poignant inside the humor, like in the lead in to his description of the night that ended Andy’s marriage:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a snob. I don’t have a problem with Applebee’s per se. But I think we can all agree, as a civilized society, that lives shouldn’t change there. Significant things shouldn’t begin or end at Applebee’s. You shouldn’t walk into Applebee’s as one thing then leave as something else entirely.
Norman is compassionate toward Andy, as you would expect. He is the main character, after all. What is impressive if that manages to show compassion toward the less likable characters. Even the villains are not villains.
A few years ago, it dawned on me that in the inevitable future movies about the gay rights movement, people like Nancy will be the bad guys. This isn’t a movie, though, and it’s not the future either. It’s now. And once again, she’s not a symbol. She’s just my mom.
Great summer read, and not just for guys! You should read this. Note: It’s free if you have Kindle Unlimited.