Review: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

8 Aug

Prepare yourselves: Matthew Norman’s debut novel, Domestic Violets, is that book that I’m going to be really annoying about for the rest of the year (and probably some of next, as well). And this is going to be less of a review than a fangirl gushing session. Okay, not entirely true. I’m going to try to review it, but I’ll tell you right now, it’s going to be all good.

In stores tomorrow, Harper Perennial is responsible for this funny, wry, and incredibly poignant look at modern family life and the frustrations we all feel about existing in a workforce that seems to be falling apart around us. In particular, Norman’s book takes place in DC during the height of the recession, and it looks shockingly familiar to me as someone who worked in DC during the height of the recession. It also looks brilliantly like the plausible fantasy of anyone who has hated their job (or not hated their job) and has decided to do something about it. I feel like I’m rambling, but Harper’s more eloquent and informative summary states:

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.) 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.

Tom Violet is an Everyman; but he’s an Everyman unlike any I’ve ever read before. He’s that guy we all know (or wish we knew) – sarcastic, trouble-making, flirty, sensitive, insecure, authentic. He’s vulnerable, but his vulnerability is comforting and familiar because we’ve all seen that kind of vulnerability staring us in the mirror. It’s funny, but not pathetic. It might sound strange to say that I can relate to a man in his mid-thirties who’s struggling to stay afloat in his marriage and in his career – our vulnerabilities are quite different on paper. This is the genius of Matthew Norman.

Matthew Norman – I know – would deny my use of the term “genius” but I think it most definitely applies. I have actually had the pleasure of meeting Norman. Independent Virginia bookstore One More Page Books and Harper Perennial hosted several local bloggers to meet and talk to Matthew and his wife, and that event only served to confirm for me that Matthew Norman is exactly the kind of guy I want to have a bestselling novel, if for no other reason than he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he’s written a novel that absolutely deserves to be read by lots and lots of people. In the vein of Tom Perrotta and Jonathan Tropper (not my comparison, but apt and accurate nonetheless), Norman has created a character – and around him, a life, a family, a job, an ambition, a wife, a father, a host of insecurities, and physical and emotional hurdles – so complex and so relatable, I was rooting for him from page one.

Take this excerpt, from

I creep down the stairs holding my nine-iron, which is the best weapon I can come up with. This seems like a better option than Anna’s hair dryer or, for that matter, it’s better than leaping from our bathroom window and fleeing off into the night by myself. I’ve got some clothes on now, a T-shirt and pajama pants, and Anna is at the top of the stairs in her sexy outfit with her cell phone.

“Who is it?” she whispers. Apparently she believes that I can see through walls and ceilings.

I’m nervous, but, more than that, I’m annoyed with the cosmic order of things because there isn’t an adult here to take care of this — a real adult, instead of an impostor like me. At this moment, I’m clearly fooling no one.

See what I mean? I often think, I need a real adult, because clearly, I am not one and rarely feel like I’m fooling anyone. (Go read the rest of the excerpt – it’s just as wry and astute as these three paragraphs).

I love this book. I laughed out loud many, many times in the process of reading this book, and I’ve been waiting to write and publish this review until the week of publication because I cannot state more clearly: GO BUY THIS BOOK. And I want you to do it right now. Here’s the most glowing review I can give this book: I was given a review copy by the publisher, but I am going to buy this book. I’m going to spend my money and buy this book, because I believe in it and in Matthew Norman. I also think it’s damn funny. And isn’t a good laugh reason enough to buy a book?


12 Responses to “Review: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman”

  1. BethFishReads (@BethFishReads) August 8, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Isn’t it great when you read a book you just want to shout about?

    • Rachel August 8, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      Yup! And this is such a worthy book to shout 🙂

  2. jenn aka the picky girl August 8, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    I so love this book. And I so love that you loved this book. I am totally fangirl-y about it myself and am pressing everyone I know to read it. I read it on NetGalley in May, so I really want my own copy. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

    • Rachel August 8, 2011 at 11:31 am #

      I read it on NetGalley too, and I am dying to buy my own copy, because I want to read it again. Also the highest praise I can imagine giving it. If Matthew’s wife wasn’t so awesome and sweet and really pregnant, I might have been more fangirl-y in person 😉

  3. Greg Zimmerman August 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    This sounds like a Greg Wheelhouse book – added to Wishlist, going into my next B&N order. Great review – you definitely are good at drumming up excitement for books you really liked!

    • Rachel August 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

      Hooray! I think you’ll love it. I really do.

  4. zeteticat August 10, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    This book sounds fantastic, and like just the thing I’ll need when I finish my current reads! Thanks for the excellent review!

  5. Erica August 10, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    “I often think, I need a real adult, because clearly, I am not one and rarely feel like I’m fooling anyone.”

    I often think the same thing! I even feel weird referring to myself as a woman instead of a girl.

    Thanks for the awesome review!

  6. Amanda August 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    My husband just read this and loved it. I think it’s going to be one I like too.

  7. Kari August 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    I’m glad you said you laughed out loud in that last paragraph, because you had me thinking it was funny until you mentioned a likeness to Tom Perrotta. And then I thought, oh god, more depressing suburban whining (to be fair to him, all I’ve read is Little Children, so that might not define him as an author, but I did not like that book).

    • Rachel August 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

      There is some of that suburban first world problems in Domestic Violets, but Norman is snarky about it, not whining like Perotta.

      Same sort of subject but much, much lighter tone and texture to the writing.

  8. Meg August 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    Totally agree: this book is awesome. I finished it a few nights ago and started crying on the couch with my boyfriend, a non-reader, who looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “You’re crying about a book? A book made you sad?” I just wiped my eyes, looked back and told him no, I was crying because I was happy — and that read was just that damn good.

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