Domestic Violets, it's easy to slip into platitudes and/or hyperbole: "I loved this novel more than fat kids love cake" or "This novel reminded me why I love reading...and why I hate work" or "This is a deeply affecting family drama. Matt is a modern-day Tolstoy." But I won't. I promise. Hopefully I can cover all those (maybe slightly exaggerated sentiments) with just this: Domestic Violets is one of my favorite novels of the year. It's very, very good.
Here's the deal: Tom Violet is 35. He's married to a smart, modern woman named Anna, and they have a precocious seven-year-old daughter named Allie. The family lives in Washington, D.C and for the last seven years, Tom has written copy for a soulless management consulting company, and therefore, is woefully unfulfilled professionally. His only joy at work is a hot 23-year-old copywriter named Katie, who may or may not have a crush on him (a crush which he may or may not reciprocate).
But let's back up a second: In the very first scene in the novel, we find out Anna is as unfulfilled in the bedroom as Tom is at work. To put it bluntly (or softly, as it were), Tom can't get it up (which is hilariously ironic; Tom's mother tells us later that the Greeks believed violets symbolized potency and fertility). That same night, after they've tried and once again given up hope of carnal delights, Tom's father Curtis Violet, a celebrated novelist and serial philanderer, swoops drunkenly into the house, announcing that he has finally won his first Pulitzer, completing a grand slam of literary prizes. The sadly funny juxtaposition of the marital "failure" with his father's literary success sets the tone for the rest of this story.
Domestic Violets is Tom's first-person account of his collisions with the trials life. It's part workplace comedy, part brutally honest meditation on the difficulty of marriage (Tom's mostly-happy-but-hitting-a-rough patch marriage is often contrasted with Curtis' several unhappy ones), and part about what it means to have a famous father (especially in a field in which Tom is interested in joining himself — he's been secretly writing a novel for the last five years).
Jonathan Tropper and The Financial Lives of the Poets (by Jess Walter) — to which Domestic Violets will reside adjacently on my categorized shelves, the mix of low-brow comedy with wit, honesty and empathy is what raises this novel from beach read to brilliant.
There are scenes is this book that I don't possess the writerly chops to describe (well, without again resorting to platitudes, like "I laughed, I cried...oh, the emotional ride"). Suffice it to say, a couple times, I literally had to put my hand over the page and reveal a line at a time so I wouldn't accidentally glance ahead and ruin the drama.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll readily admit that part of the reason (maybe most) I connected so well with this novel is that, as a near-35-year-old, self-deprecating dude myself, I felt often like Matt (I'm calling him Matt, not Matthew; he won't mind, I hope) Norman had crawled into my brain, thieved my thoughts, and spilled them onto his pages. Would that I were as clever, honest and funny as Tom (and Matt) are. I can't recommend Domestic Violets more highly.
(A big thanks to Rachel at A Home Between Pages, whose own glowing review first put Domestic Violets on my radar.)