Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman


During a break from Stephen King's 11/22/63 this past week, I devoured the audiobook version of Matthew Norman's debut novel, Domestic Violets.

From Goodreads.com:

Tom Violet 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. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And 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. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.
Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way.

Matthew Norman's debut novel, Domestic Violets, was fantastic.  I got this as an audiobook from Audible on the recommendation of Grace over at Feeding My Book Addiction, where I find many picks that turn out to be favorites.

When the novel begins, our protagonist, first-person narrator and protagonist Tom Violet, age "almost 36," lets us into his life in more intimate detail than I was expecting. He's having trouble getting an erection.  Although I was a little surprised to encounter a sex scene in the opening chapter of a novel, Tom Violet's willingness to share this with the reader combined with humorous off the cuff delivery endeared Tom to me as a character, and Todd McLaren's narration of the audiobook helped Tom leap off the page into three dimensions and he sat me down and said "I'd like to tell you a story."
Equally endearing to me is the fact that Tom hates his job as head copywriter at his company.  He has a by-the-book nemesis named Gregory, whom he insists on calling Greg to antagonize him.  The only thing that seems slightly uplifting is an inappropriate crush on his twenty-three year old co-worker, Katie.  However, given that he's married, no good can come of this, and there probably isn't such a thing as "harmless."

I thought the writing was excellent.  At the beginning of the novel, Tom is passive, and the language makes that clear.  It's almost impressionist how the reader anticipates how Tom should feel before he necessarily comes clean about it.  For example, Tom has a secret novel that he's shown to no one.  His father is a famous novelist who, it reveals, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  One thing leads to another and eventually, something occurs that breaks the camel's back, as it were.  So you watch Tom move from  passivity to activity and begin to take control of his life in grand fashion.
This novel is also extremely well textured.  I got a sense of how different aspects of Tom's life fit together in terms of his relationships with his wife, his daughter, his coworkers, and his parents, and many other characters besides.

If Domestic Violets is any indication, Matthew Norman is a novelist I will follow for a long time.  I would encourage everyone to check out his fantastic debut novel.

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