Tom Violet is having a rough go of it. His first novel — a pet project spanning years — has just been finished, leaving nothing to distract him from his soul-sucking job in Corporate America. His wife Anna is as beautiful as ever, but their efforts to conceive a second child have been unsuccessful . . . and Tom can only blame himself.
And then there’s his father, Curtis Violet — a literary rock star with 16 books and a bevy of ex-wives under his belt. After his latest romance with a too-young starlet goes awry, Curtis reappears on Tom and Anna’s proverbial doorstep in Georgetown — “proverbial” because, you know, Curtis actually owns the place. When news drops that Curtis has finally won the Pulitzer Prize after decades of literary acclaim, Tom worries his tattered world is about to get a whole lot more insufferable. And fate just might prove him right.
Matthew Norman’s Domestic Violets is the sort of sensationally smart, witty and poignant novel you only discover every once in a while . . . because they don’t make ’em like this too often. With whip-smart prose and laugh-out-loud conundrums, Norman creates unique, flawed and hilarious characters as Tom Violet grapples with family, marriage and fulfillment.
Tom is my new character crush. In his thirties and working for a D.C. business that helps other businesses do business better (yeah, Tom doesn’t know what that means, either), his days are spent writing ridiculous press releases and battling Gregory, his arch nemesis. Only Katie, a 23-year-old copywriter, seems to make the afternoons worth living for; and as their friendship progresses, he finds himself questioning his life and marriage and ideals.
That makes the book sound twisty — or maybe torrid. But I can promise you, hand to heart, that it’s not. When I think about Domestic Violets in the future, I’ll think of the hilarious one-liners Tom crafts and Norman’s ability to make you care about people who are such lovable, bumbling fools.
And fools they are. Curtis is the picture of a pretentious, old-school writer — and I absolutely adored him. He’s an emotional wreck and often a poor father, but you know that he means well at the end of the day. I pictured him like a mature Paul Newman — old enough to know better, but still young enough not to care. The literary references to his career were fascinating and I loved all the Pulitzer talk. It made me want to work a little harder on my own masterpiece.
It’s hard to describe just what makes this novel so good, but let me tell you: it is good. I was sucked right into the story from page one, laughing with a covered mouth as Tom details his difficulties performing, er, marital relations with Anna. Every character is faceted and fascinating; the plot is fast-paced, engaging and funny. Like really, really funny. My favorite bits were probably when Tom mentions that his family and friends are going to complain to “HR” about his behavior, much in the way that Gregory does:
Tom Violet insists on smiling and saying hello to me every time he sees me, even in the men’s room. However, I know these sentiments are not sincere, and only succeed in undermining me in front of my team and fellow employees.
Anyone working in an office will relate all too well to Tom’s descriptions of life at his impossible-to-describe business — the way office dwellers bask in the 10- or 15-minute breaks they can steal to get a cup of coffee from 7-Eleven or sneak out for a cigarette. Anything to break up the monotony — even if it means playing pranks on “Darth Gregory,” a la Dwight and Jim on “The Office.”
But it’s not all fun and games. What elevated this book to a 5-star level for me was the emotional depth, sincerity and love simmering beneath Norman’s words. At his core, Tom Violet is a son and husband and father. He’s deeper than he wants to appear. And he wants to be more than just Curtis Violet’s boy.
Here, after a chat with his mother:
When I was little, I read books because I thought that’s what people were supposed to do, because that’s what my mom did and what my dad did. While I stumbled and squinted my way through math and science and everything else useful in the world, I was always confident in words and stories and the things lurking in the brains of the characters who wandered in and out of my life. Sometimes I wish I’d been born to normal people — people to whom a book was just a book and people could be fixed like Fords.
It’s the little moments like that which created an incredible read. It’s not too often you finish an emotionally poignant book and think, “Wow, that was fun.” But Matthew Norman, new literary rock star? You’ve done it, my friend. And if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll meet Tom Violet again someday.
5 out of 5!