DOMESTIC VIOLETS by Matthew Norman

Domestic-violets The September-October EDIWTB online book club pick was Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman. I picked this book in part because of the stellar reviews I had read of Domestic Violets around the blogosphere by people I trust (such as this one and this one). The synopsis sounded good too: Tom Violet, a corporate copywriter in his mid-thirties, is fighting crises on many levels. His wife may be having an affiar, while he himself is having inappropriate thoughts about a young female co-worker. His father, a famous novelist, has just won a Pulitzer, while Tom, himself a novelist, has a manuscript that he has only shared with a few people. And he hates his job.

Domestic Violets is funny and insightful. Norman lampoons corporate life, especially within companies that don't actually produce anything, other than "management services". He also nicely captures a moment in time – the dark ages of the late Bush administration and the financial collapse. The Obama administration is around the corner, with the hope and optimism it promised, but those days aren't here yet and people are intensely feeling the desperation and fear of economic instability.

Norman also did a nice job with describing Tom's marriage to his wife Anna, and what childraising and years of domesticity have done to their relationship. I enjoyed his dialogue and the details with which he infuses the scenes that took place in the Violets' Georgetown home.

I found Norman's depiction of Tom's father, Curtis, and their complicated relationship, to be less successful. Curtis verged on caricature, and the chapters that focused on him weakened the book for me. I expected something a little weightier, overall, and the scenes where Curtis was totally over the top (like when he sent Tom to pick up his clothes) alienated me. Those parts reminded me that Domestic Violets was a book, rather than allowing me to lose myself in the story.

I also had an issue with the ending and what it says about artistic intergrity. It seemed very unrealistic, and also pretty out of character. For a book that was otherwise so grounded in real life, the Curtis-Tom subplot stuck out to me as being pretty inconsistent and a bit hasty.

I expected to enjoy Domestic Violets more than I did, based on the reviews I read. It was enjoyable, and certainly funny in places, but I think it fell short in the end. It could have been something more. I seem to be in the minority on this one, though.

OK, EDIWTB readers, what did you think of Domestic Violets? Did it fall short for you or were you big fans? I can't wait to read your comments. Please post below!

And a special thank you, again, to Harper Perennial for facilitating the September/October book club!

 

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19 Comments

  • October 3, 2011 - 1:53 am | Permalink

    SPOILERS! I agreed that the ending seems a bit unrealistic, but then I thought about all the ghost writers there are out there, so it may not be that impossible to pull it off.
    I enjoyed this but didn’t love it. It fell short a bit too. Here’s my review: http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/10/book-review-domestic-violets-by-matthew.html

  • Lindsay
    October 3, 2011 - 7:57 am | Permalink

    I agree, Gail, that I had high hopes for this book. I grabbed it on my way out the door for a plane ride (where there were no other distractions, as it turns out) and read it in fairly short order. While it was a quick read and certainly interesting, I too had issues with the ending and also with the portrayal of Curtis. He fell short as a character for me. In the end, I decided that perhaps the issue was that I rarely read books from a male perspective and that was what bothered me. However, to the book’s credit, it kept me interested and engaged on a long plane ride and for that I am grateful. Would I recommend it to a friend? I don’t think I would.

  • October 3, 2011 - 8:09 am | Permalink

    Here’s my brief take on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/195991034
    Great review, btw.

  • October 3, 2011 - 8:27 am | Permalink

    I actually really enjoyed this book. Had it not been for the book club though, I don’t think I would have read it. The cover didn’t grab my attention at all so I don’t think I ever would have picked this up otherwise. I think because I wasn’t sure about the book to begin with, I was pleasantly surprised. I loved the relationship (or lack of) between Tom and Greg and it made me remember what it was like to work in an office.
    I also have to mention Brandon, he was hilarious. I think he may have been my favorite character. I would have liked to see more of him.

  • October 3, 2011 - 8:28 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed Domestic Violets. I thought it explored relationships with tongue in cheek humor. It reminded me that we should all pursue our dreams before it’s too late.

  • Tuvana
    October 3, 2011 - 9:03 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this book. I would call it a guilty pleasure but the writing was too good so I did not feel guilty! It reminded me of Jonathan Tropper and Lolly Winston’s writing. I think Matt Norman has a great ear for dialogue and a very keen eye for the nuances of daily life and interaction, whether it be at work or at home.
    Gayle, I agree that Curtis’ character was a bit of a caricature (as were, I thought, Gary and Ashley).
    I was not so convinced by the actual plot and the aborted infidelities but that did not detract from my enjoyment. the characters were funny and the writing made me laugh out loud at times. I would not call this a weighty or meaty read but I would recommend it as a quick, fun, intelligent read.
    I hope that Matthew Norman himself has another novel locked up somewhere in a drawer, ready to publish.

  • Marcia
    October 3, 2011 - 10:06 am | Permalink

    I found Tom Violet completely unlikable in the beginning of ths story………..He hated hisjob, was having trouble
    in his marriage, and was flirting with his much younger assistant copywriter. I really didnt care for this character or the book until the end of the story when he leaves his job and finally goes after his own happiness.
    One of thetraits that did finally make the character of Tom Violet likable was how he loves his daughter. “I love her so much that its actually hard to breathe”. p.241 The end of the book was great,
    Tom has completely turned his life around and is happy. To his wife he says, “I tell her I love her. I make an agreement with myself to start
    saying this more- to say it for no good reason .”p.311 And Tom is finally
    making good choices…… I’ve found there’s always the one right thing
    to say. I’ve decided to dedicate myself going forward to actually saying that
    thing when ever possible.” p 314 Though I tried to not like Tom Violet very much, I actually ended up cheering for him in the end.

  • Lisa Ridgley
    October 3, 2011 - 10:50 am | Permalink

    I had been reading so many great things about this book, I was afraid that, as often happens, my expectations would be too high and it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I couldn’t have been more wrong! This was a great book – it’s hard to believe it’s Norman’s debut novel. The writing is so descriptive and “real life”. It’s also filled with the dry, sarcastic humor that I love. Agreed the ending was a bit unrealistic. It’s rare that I read a first person male narrator, and enjoyed that perspective more than I expected to.

  • Erin
    October 3, 2011 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    My goodreads review:
    “Tom Violet has been living in his negligent father’s shadow for his whole life. Now, at 35 he experiences a bout of performance anxiety in the bedroom that makes him look at the rest of his life. Should he pursue writing when his father is a Pulitzer winner? Would he even have a fair shot?
    I really liked this book. I thought the prose was humorous and the plot moved along quickly. The characters in this story were all fleshed out and dynamic, with the exception of Tom’s mother who the reader doesn’t get much information on. For a debut novel, this was really good and I hope that Matthew Norman continues writing.”
    I found it believable that Tom’s father was over the top, as he is a famous novelist. I personally don’t know any celebrities, but they are many stories of people living in excess without any concern for their loved ones. Curtis seems to be like this.
    The only thing I didn’t really like was that Tom doesn’t tell Anna about cheating on her. He lets her believe that she is the only one who experimented with an affair. I think that tips their marrige in his favor indefinitely when he is not innocent.
    Thanks for giving me the chance to read this for free. I enjoyed it!

  • October 3, 2011 - 11:18 am | Permalink

    Two of my favorite authors are Nick Hornby and Chuck Klosterman. And while I wouldn’t really link them all together, I could certainly find strains of both throughout this novel, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.
    I love novels that seem real. Real frustrations, real problems, REAL. And while sometimes a parody of real, I liked that Tom seemed real – unhappy, frustrated, stuck and hitting a point in life where you have to DO something or bury your emotion.

  • Miriam
    October 3, 2011 - 11:54 am | Permalink

    I was not sure about this book until I was halfway into it and then I really wanted to keep reading to see what would happen. I felt Tom so unlikeable at the beginning of the book. He showed real growth as a character. At the end I liked him.
    This is a good example of Modern Fiction with all the contemporary references (which I really enjoyed). I thought the author very witty and funny.
    Wasn’t one I would have picked up but I am glad I had the chance to read and I definitely will pass on.

  • Elisabeth
    October 3, 2011 - 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Domestic Violets was a roller coaster ride of a read for me. I would go from liking the story or characters to not liking, to liking them depending upon what they were doing.
    I must admit though, and I am not a prude but I was very put off by the first page where Norman has Tom come right out with his manhood problems. Luckily, the story was good enough to get past this.
    I also found reading a book that was present day to be a refreshing change of pace. A novel idea, lol!
    What I also liked about the book was that both Tom and Anna realized that their marriage was worth saving and both decided not to have affairs. This is rare. I agree with Erin, it was very disappointing that Tom opted not to be honest with Anna. I think he owed it to her and wonder if this will not come out and cause problems in their future.
    There were many redeeming qualities in these characters that we all can identify with, and also choices that were made that in the real world we wish we could do. As in Tom and his job “actions”.
    I read mostly books written by women, this was a pleasant change of perspective with a male viewpoint on marriage, job and family.
    All in all, I thought this a great choice, thank you Gayle and Harper Perennial! I give this book high marks!

  • October 3, 2011 - 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Gayle and Harper Perennial for hosting the book club!
    I really liked Tom from the get-go – I envy those that have the snappy comebacks all the time. His HR memos and dark humor made me bust out laughing. I also thought in the back of my mind he was pushing it sometimes – especially in the big meeting. He was so past the point of caring at that point, but there’s something to be said for there’s a time and place buddy! He was also way too blase about the relationship with his young copy-editor. That was a train wreck waiting to happen and he never saw it coming until it was too late. I was pretty mad at him by that time.
    I like the the father – he loved women, just couldn’t make up his mind. I gave him loads of credit for stepping up to care for the daughter when Tom and Anna were seemingly falling down the rabbit hole of their own whims and self-obsessed urges.
    At face value, I admired Tom for what he did with his book in the end, but now reading some of the other reviews, I agree its a bit unrealistic. Who would do that after working all those years, and keeping it to himself and only a few people?
    I also agree this book was a change from what I usually read since the main character was male and the main story revolved around him.
    I liked that it was current and I really related to his corporate job – that was what really got me invested in his story to find out where the book would go.
    Did anyone check out the music suggestions in the P.S. section of the book? I’d only heard of a few of those artists, and even then only from facebook or Grey’s Anatomy.

  • Miriam
    October 3, 2011 - 9:52 pm | Permalink

    I agree with so many of the comments on this book. I do tend to choose books written by women so this one was a refreshing change.
    I must say I did not care for the cover of the book- the images look dated and for such contemporary writing- these images do not fit. And the title is not something that I would choose.
    Thank you, Gayle and Harper Perennial for this opportunity to read an unusual book.

  • October 3, 2011 - 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like we have a real split here between people who loved the book and people who were disappointed in either the characters or the twist at the end. I too wondered if it was the male narrator that I wasn’t comfortable with, but I have read several books lately by male writers with male protagonists, without the same frustrations.
    Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments! Keep ‘em coming!

  • October 5, 2011 - 7:46 am | Permalink

    Stayed up past my bedtime last night to finish the book. I really liked. I loved the writing. And the characters were believable to me. To me, the ending was believable because I couldn’t understand how Tom was so happy when everyone compared his book to his father’. Here was a man who was trying so hard not to be like his father and he’s spent 5 years writing this masterpiece only to have it be like his fathers.

  • October 5, 2011 - 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this one and didn’t expect to. I think I just appreciated it being told from a male’s point of view. The ending was not realistic but at that point, I was sort of cheering for the guy so I think I let it slide.
    I found the stuff with his dad to be far-fetched, but the personality of Curtis reminded me of so many professors here on campus. All that pomp and circumstance with such delicate egos.

  • October 8, 2011 - 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry I missed reading this one with you guys! It sounds like a book I’d really enjoy and I hope to read it soon.

  • October 25, 2011 - 8:55 pm | Permalink

    I finally finished this last night. Better late then never I guess?
    Overall I really did like this book. At some portions it was harder to stay interested in then others, but I wa pretty satisfied at the end. I kind of loved the ending too, though I have no idea how plausible it is in real life I was buying it.

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