Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
Date Published: August 9, 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Publisher’s Book Summary: 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 arch-nemesis 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.
My Thoughts: The cover of Domestic Violets makes me think about the intro to Mad Men, of which I am a fan, but it's the title 'Domestic Violets' that first drew my attention to this book. It's a little bit irreverent which I love and immediately made me think it was probably about a family in some respect or other. Then I read the premise and it was an easy choice to review this book for TLC Book Tours. In the back of my mind, I was concerned the title, cover and premise of this book would be, like so many movie trailers, the best part of the book I need not have worried. This book is smart, extremely funny, well-written with genuine dialogue and seriously flawed, realistic characters who are as charming as they are jerky and easy for me to love.
The Violet family, Tom, Anna and 7-year old Allie, lives in Washington D. C. with other family members including Tom's father, Curtis Violet, his step-father, Gary and his mother in surrounding nearby areas. Curtis moves in to Tom's house for a short time due to some domestic problems in his own home, adding to the chaos that is Tom's life right now. Having his dad as a houseguest could be a good thing or a disaster, only time will tell. And Tom getting a clue and paying attention to things happening right under his nose would help!
Tom's life has run seriously off-course in the last few months and is only getting worse. As the book opens, Tom is in the bathroom off the bedroom he shares with Anna. She's in bed, dressed in lingerie, waiting for him and he's bemoaning his inability to have sex with his wife. Try as he might, Tom cannot get his flaccid penis to cooperate. He returns to the bedroom where Anna, despite Tom's reluctance and discomfort, tries to help things along to no avail. Tom's humiliation is complete. Just as Anna seems about to try to talk to Tom, there's a frantic knock on the locked door. Allie's upset, convinced there's a burglar downstairs. When Tom and Anna hear noises below, Tom creeps down the stairs, his nine-iron on his hand, to find his front door open and Curtis in the refrigerator rummaging around for some good alcohol. Matthew Norman opens his captivating novel with a humorous, slightly pathetic, brief and meaningful glimpse into Tom's current life.
Tom's a guy's kind of guy. He likes to drink beer, play golf, admire pretty women and crack jokes, the more inappropriate the situation the better for joking. He doesn't like to talk about feelings, or things that cause him stress, or try to figure out what such issues might be. Tom doesn't like to communicate even with Anna, maybe especially with Anna. Rather than communicate with her, he shuts her out.. As a result, he's become distant from Anna and there's no light on the horizon indicating things are going to improve on their own. Tom's frustrated and feeling sorry for himself. The reality of his life doesn't match what he's always dreamed and expected it would be by the time he reached 35. He doesn't appreciate what he has but whines about what he doesn't have and wants. Tom's always wanted to be a successful writer of fiction. The major problem here is that his father, Curtis Violet, is a famous, award-winning novelist and this years Pulitzer Prize winner.
Tom has been writing a novel for several years. It's currently sitting in his desk draw with a title page naming the author as Thomas Ferris! To pay the bills he's a copywriter at Management Services Worldwide (MSW) a huge company. Tom detests his job. To get through the days at MSW, Tom flirts with the other copywriter on whom he has a crush: Katie, a beautiful, young 23-year old who looks at Tom with stars in her big brown eyes. Tom also openly, mercilessly mocks Gregory Steinberg, his coworker who edits Tom's copy. Tom doesn't like Gregory. He knows exactly what things bothers Greg and he relishes pushing those buttons each and everyday. Both of these situations have the potential to get Tom in a lot of trouble.
Tom has the potential to be a real jerk but he can also be charming. Deep down he seems to have a good heart and loves his wife and daughter. None of this will matter if Tom doesn't figure out his life, learn how to communicate with his wife and repair the disconnect between them. Norman has created a remarkably flawed, very human character in Tom. He has incorporated many of the male traits in Tom women moan about in men. He's also included in Tom many of the characteristics we often wish to see in men. Tom is a well-rounded character but he's a good example of how even stable, fortunate people can screw up their lives sometimes. Tom's terrible at communicating with his wife but he's well aware of his failings as a husband, father and man. He sincerely shares his problems and issues with us throughout the novel. I thought his honesty was one of his most endearing qualities. I also really appreciated his self-deprecating humor. It effectively portrayed how much pressure Tom feels wanting to be a novelist yet having Curtis with his reputation and accomplishments as a father.
I think it was a brilliant choice of Norman's to have Tom narrate the novel from a first-person point-of-view because it creates an intimacy with the reader. At times during the narrative, I felt like Tom was flirting with me a bit, turning on his charm to influence my opinion, maybe being a little too honest or genuine. Similarly, it sometimes felt as if Tom's joking is all for our benefit like he's putting on a show. I was surprised Anna didn't become more frustrated with Tom on a regular basis. I sure wanted to smack some sense into him occasionally!
Norman's talent isn't limited to 36-year old Tom. It's apparent that Norman understands people. His dialogue, whether between Tom and Anna, Tom and Curtis or even with Ashley, Curtis' beautiful, bitter and unpleasant wife, has a genuine ring to it and flows smoothly. Even his secondary characters are realistic and, even if we're not able to identify with them, we feel sympathy for them. Ashley, Curtis' young wife who kicked him out is self-centered and angry. She's also needy and bitter because she's not the center of Curtis' world, something she wants and needs. Although Ashley isn't someone I can truly relate to, I understand her, knowing that Curtis has an eye for women and being a faithful companion is not one of his talents, and was able to sympathize with her hurt and anger.
Tom's life gets more chaotic and unsettling after the first few chapters. He comes up with a way to free himself from the frustrations and limitations he feels and get a good laugh at the same time. Like much of Tom's behavior, it seems like a terrible idea that might turn out okay in the end. Still, I really wished for both their sakes, that Tom confided in Anna first. That would be a mature, reasonable grown-up things to do, though!
Domestic Violets is a book you don't want to miss. It won't just make you laugh and entertain you, it will irritate you and tick you off in parts, it will make you think seriously about different issues and, if it doesn't make you cry, it will sadden you in parts but it will also seriously entertain you! Once you start reading Matthew Norman's debut, you won't want to put it down. There's quite a bit going on in this book and it can be read on a couple of different levels. However you look at it, though it's about family, relationships, love, how we define ourselves, work, books and the book industry among other things. I highly recommend this book and I am already anticipating Matthew Norman's next book!
Matthew Norman's blog, The Norman Nation
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Domestic Violets and to Harper Perennial for a copy of Domestic Violets.