Title: Domestic Violets
Author: Matthew Norman
Release Date: August 9, 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Tom Violet is 35 years old, but his life hasn’t turned out the way he imagined it. He thought he’d have followed in his father’s footsteps by now and become a famous author in his own right. Instead, he only has written one, unpublished novel that he recently completed after years of work. He has a beautiful wife, but their relationship is difficult at best. He’s unquestionably attracted to a young woman he works with, and his office job is at the worst sort of corporate hack of a company. As things just get worse and worse, Tom finally decides he has to take control of his life if he is ever going to find real happiness.
I first heard about Domestic Violets at BEA this past May, where I was lucky enough to meet the author, Matt Norman, at a HarperCollins party. I thought his novel sounded interesting, but with all the bookish craze of BEA, the book slipped my mind. That is, until a few weeks ago, when I was lucky enough to attend a pre-pub event with Matt. He came to our local indie bookstore, One More Page Books, to talk to a few bloggers about the novel, and while I wanted to read it before the event, of course life got in the way. After it was over, though, Domestic Violets went to the top of my list; it sounded so funny and real, I couldn’t wait to read it.
I had high expectations going into Domestic Violets, especially after what I’d heard from some fellow bloggers at the event. Even so, this book blew me away. It was so witty, so heartfelt, and so achingly honest that I couldn’t help but love it from beginning to end.
Tom Violet is such a great main character. He’s unsure of himself, of whether he actually has it in him to fulfill his own dreams, and hides those insecurities behind a mask of hilarious cynicism. Tom is riotously funny. From the very first page, I found myself laughing out loud at his thoughts, his antics, and his dialogue. But what really got to me about Tom is his vulnerabilities. He doesn’t really believe himself capable of anything great; he feels as if he is the essence of mediocrity, stuck in a job he hates and unsure whether the manuscript he has written is any good at all. And Tom isn’t perfect; as the novel progresses, he makes some bad choices, and it’s clear he is is own worst enemy. But he is so appealing and so heartbreakingly honest with the reader, and not to mention incredibly funny, that the reader will fall in love with him from the very first page.
Another reason I enjoyed this novel so much was because of where Tom worked. This company, called MSW in the novel, is eerily reminiscent of a place I worked when I first moved to DC. When Matt Norman confirmed that the company is based on an actual organization, I became convinced that this place that Tom works in the book is the same place I worked (which shall remain nameless). Norman skewers corporate culture in general, but specifically, that of this company that I severely disliked, and I found it absolutely hilarious.
Readers will likely find Tom to be that person they wished they could be at work, but won’t actually be for fear of being fired. It’s no secret that Tom hates his job. He also hates one of his co-workers, and as a result, tries to make his life as difficult as possible. It is incredibly enjoyable to live through Tom vicariously as his antics become increasingly daring.
“My rivalry with Darth Gregory has been a pain in this man’s ass for years, since the day Greg was reconstructed by evil droids and hired here…Our latest argument then was about how I’d embarrassed Greg in a staff meeting by suggesting that he no longer be allowed to use the term ‘low-hanging fruit’ to describe easy-to-acquire customers on the grounds that it sounded gross.”
This review is already so long, and I feel like I haven’t even gotten past the first 50 pages of the novel, and have in no way done it justice. So let me just say this: if you are a fan of witty fiction, if you are a writer, whether aspiring or published, or if you just like very honest, character driven novels, Domestic Violets is a must-read. Tom is an amazingly written character, and it shocks me that this is Matt Norman’s first book. He has completely won me over as a fan, and I will be reading anything and everything he writes in the future.