This Is Where I Leave You), or a lost job (The Financial Lives of the Poets), or a mysterious medical issue (Everything Changes). We're All Damaged, Matthew Norman's new novel (after his fantastic debut, Domestic Violets), starts similarly — with a divorce.
Starting with sad is an easy narrative choice, after all, but a solid one for this genre. That's because it allows our dude narrator — in this case, an early 30s dude named Andy — to go through the rest of the novel in his self-deprecating, woe-is-me tone. And we can easily laugh at/with him, because a) he doesn't have any REAL problems (I mean, these narrators aren't exactly Nelson Mandela), and b) he's damn funny!
Like Judd in This Is Where I Leave You and Tom in Domestic Violets, Andy is your prototypical dude lit narrator: amusing, but sad. After his wife dumped him during a meal at Applebee's, he cuts tail from his hometown of Omaha, and runs to New York. But now, as the novel gets going, he has to return to Omaha because his grandfather isn't doing well.
There, he's surrounded by a goofy cast of characters, each of whom exasperates him more than the last. His d-bag older brother still picks on him. His dad shoots squirrels in the backyard (with paintballs). His mother is a rising star in the conservative talk radio circuit, and may soon get a call up to the "big leagues," Fox News. (Recently, she's been terrorized by The Glitter Mafia, a group of gay men who take exception to her narrow and outmoded views on marriage equality, and take it upon themselves to periodically bomb Andy's parents' home with Ken figures, glitter, and blow-up sex dolls.) And then there's Daisy, a mysterious, tattooed, and alluring woman, who, for reasons Andy can't fathom, befriends him and professes to help him get over his divorce.
So Andy spends two weeks hanging with Daisy, drinking lots, saying goodbye to his grandfather, being annoyed by his parents, dodging the Glitter Mafia, and plotting bodily harm against his ex-wife's new fiancee, a hunky ambulance driver. And that's the novel! Not to minimize it, but we're not exactly talking Pulitzer here. It is, however, a great, fun read — and despite the avalanche of self-deprecation and 90s references, it is a novel that has some heart, as Andy slowly begins to figure it all out.
I'd definitely recommend it — a great summer read for dudes at the beach, on the plane, or wherever you just need some goofiness for a few hours.