- Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (August 9, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0062065117
Back-of-the-book blurb: 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.) This 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.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ thoughts: Back in May I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Norman at Book Expo America. His debut novel, Domestic
Violets was published this summer – it’s funny (both witty and comical), and smart – Norman reels us in with humor, while exploring a very poignant plot.
If protagonist Tom Violet were to sum up his relationship with his father in terms of Facebook-speak, the response would most certainly be “it’s complicated.”
You see, Tom struggles in a dead-end job as an advertising copywriter (hmm, Matthew Norman is an advertising copywriter!), while his father Curtis Violet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Add Curtis’s self-aggrandizement and his seeming immaturity (he parties like a college student) and his inability to settle into a relationship (Curtis’s marriage to Tom’s mother ended in divorce, and Curtis has been involved with a string of younger and younger women). These are in direct opposition to Tom’s constant under-cutting of himself (and others) via carefully places verbal barbs, and his role of “family man” to his wife (Anna) and daughter (Allie).
I’ve pulled one (lengthy) quote from the book, which is a great snapshot of the struggle Tom feels. This scene from pages 71-72; Curtis has been invited to the Letterman show to present the Top Ten list; the subject on this night is Top Ten Perks to Winning the Pulitzer Prize:
The drummer gives a faint drum roll and my dad eyes a spot just above the camera. “I get an exclusive ten-percent discount on my next purchase at participating New York Area Barnes & Noble Booksellers.”
“That sounds like a pretty good deal,” says Letterman. “Number nine.”
“Now maybe I’ll be famous enough that people will stop asking me if I write those sexy vampire books.”
“I’ve just been hired as head writer on MTV’s The Hills.”
“I get to make up my own creepy religion for movie stars and weirdos. It will be called Violetology.”
The crowd likes this one, and Letterman laughs. “Number six.”
“I no longer have to pretend that I’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow.”
And just like that, the audience turns and goes completely silent. Curtis looks over at Letterman and shrugs.
“Well, I guess we really shouldn’t have expected much more than that, huh?” says the host. “Number five, Curtis.”
“I’ve finally earned enough street cred to have that fruitcake Tom Wolfe whacked.”
“From now on, the patches on the elbows of my tweed blazers will be made from 100 percent real endangered species skin.”
“That doesn’t really seem like something to celebrate. Number three.”
“Screw the financial crisis. I have enough money in my wallet right now to buy everyone in the audience a used Dodge Neon.”
Television has filled him out somehow, and he looks like a younger, happier man. It’s like he’s at Politics & Prose bookstore in DC for the hundredth time giving a reading and not the Ed Sullivan Theater on national television. One hand is poised in his pocket, the other gesticulates casually as he talks. He is my idol.
“John Grisham and Stephen King have to mow my lawn for a whole year.”
“And the number one perk to winning the Pulitzer Prize,” says Letterman. The drum roll heightens and my dad smiles at the camera.
“Fabio has finally agreed to do my next book cover.”
The band breaks into music, and then, with another quick, professor-y wave, Curtis is gone.
“Is that it?” Allie asks. I guess she’s unimpressed.
“My God.” says Anna. She reaches for my hand and I take it without thinking – a reflex of love. “He didn’t even look nervous. Can you imagine going on TV and being so … cool?”
“I wonder if he was stoned,” I say, but she’s right. I couldn’t event begin to count the number of times I’ve imagined what it’d be like to be my father.
Did you catch:
- Norman’s witty writing style and snappy dialogue
- Curtis’s apparent confidence
- The very high pedestal Tom places his father on
- Anna reaches for Tom’s hand and he “take[s] it without thinking – a reflex of love.” This hints to the curious undercurrent running through their marriage and Tom’s sudden inability to ‘perform’ in the bedroom
- All the wonderful mentions of books and reading – including a reference to the Violet family’s local bookshop, Politics & Prose, in Washington DC (hmm, author Matthew Norman lives nearby in Baltimore)