Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

2nd August 2011

*I received this book from Harper Perennial through NetGalley in May. I have been not-so-patiently waiting to tell you all about it. Big thanks to Beth Fish Reads, whose blog introduced me to the book. Preorder at Indiebound so you can get the book NEXT TUESDAY!

Every once in a while, I happen across a book so good and so funny I immediately want to buy 10 copies and hand them out to anyone and everyone. Why only every once in a while? To be honest, humor in writing is not easy. Often, comedy is hit or miss. A book might garner a laugh or two from me, but I’ve only been known on two occasions to laugh out loud multiple times during a plane ride. David Sedaris is responsible for making a good friend and my sister steer clear from me on a layover because they were humiliated by my LOL-ing all over the place. Matthew Norman is responsible for the second occasion. Thankfully, I was traveling solo and could have cared less what my snoring, iPod-listening seatmates thought of me.

Domestic Violets (which, I’m sorry, has one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while) is the story of the Violet family. Tom Violet is a man with a problem. Actually, he’s a man with a couple problems. His wife wants a second child, and he cannot quite…ahem…rise to the occasion. Curtis Violet, Tom’s dad, is a famous writer who has just won the Prize (Pulitzer, that is) and been chucked out on his rear by his most recent, and very young, wife. On top of it all, the recession has just hit, and living in D.C., Tom is on tenterhooks, waiting to see how long he will be able to keep a job none really likes all that much, while secretly writing a novel he’s a bit terrified to publish.

What’s it really about? Well, all that stuff I just said, but to break it down: It’s really about a man who hates his job, loves his wife and family, but who isn’t quite sure how to get out of the miserable place in which he finds himself. Domestic Violets is also about how sometimes in life, when the worst happens, it leaves behind it room for the life we always wanted, except not as cheesy as that last line made it sound.

If you are on Twitter, or if you’ve picked up my subtle hints on the blog, you know I loved this book. I mean, I really loved this book. It’s funny (did I mention that already?), it’s endearing, but most of all, it’s just realistic, and I think because of the writer/family realationships, there were moments that reminded me both of The Human Stain by Philip Roth and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Not in a gimmicky, Norman-is-copying-other-authors sort of way, but in a hey-this-guy-is-a-damn-good-writer kind of way.

Want an example of the humor? Tom Violet sends his daughter to bed and tells her to go to sleep…

I can see by her expression that she’ll do whatever she damn well pleases until she hears me coming up the stairs. By now she’s old enough to know that we’re not going to beat her, so she’s pretty much got the run of the place.

So preorder it. And then come back here so we can talk about it. Because I gave my brother my signed copy I got at BEA (to share the love), and the little punk hasn’t read it yet. He keeps giving excuses like he started a new job and moved and stuff. Whatever.

This book will:

-make you laugh out loud. warning: drinking while reading may cause said beverage to fly from your nostrils.


Other reviews:

Beth Fish Reads

The Book Garden (who also compares humor to Sedaris)

Leeswammes’ Blog (who also compares it to Franzen!)


  • Anonymous

    I think that after I finish my two current vaguely dark reads that I’ll have to jump on this one. I need a laugh. In a big way. I’ve been looking forward to this one since you told me about it in New York.

    • Oh yeah – if you need a laugh, I’d definitely recommend it. And actually, like me, I think you could use it right now because of your contemplation of career, etc. Let me know what you think of it.

  • Amy

    I’m reading this book now so I only read enough of your post to know you loved it. I’ll be back when I finish reading it! So far it’s great!

    • Yea! So glad you’re enjoying it so far.

  • I am so glad to see how much you liked this one. I just got a copy and I am very excited to read it now!

    • Oh, I’m so glad you got a copy. It’s just fantastic.

  • I will definitely be reading this at some point. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud. Janet Evanovich occasionally does that. (Who am I kidding? I fell off a sofa once, laughing so hard at one of her books.) Jeffrey Cohen is another writer who made me laugh out loud with his Aaron Tucker books. Not to mention, THE SPELLMAN FILES by Lisa Lutz and Dylan Schaffer’s MISDEMEANOR MAN which almost made me choke on a pretzel like some President I remember vaguely…

    David Sedaris makes me laugh as well. ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, did it.

    It’s so damned hard to write really good humor, but it’s out there if you know where to look.

    Thanks for the tip on this book, Miss Picky.

    • You are so welcome, Yvette. Glad I found another Sedaris follower.

      I am actually reading a Lisa Lutz right now —Heads You Lose.

      But yes, it is hard to write good humor, so I definitely appreciate it when I can find it.

  • Ti

    I am reading this one right now for a book tour in a couple of weeks. I just started it and don’t really have a feel for it yet, so it’s good to know that you liked it.

    • I really did, Ti! I hope you get into it.

  • Okay, so your review has me considering this book for the first time. Honestly, when I saw the set up I sort of rolled my eyes — straight white heterosexual men bemoaning their lives just don’t do it for me (hence my struggles with The Magicians!) — but I could be persuaded to stop being a hater since you thought it was funny and well-written.

    • Audra – I know. I really do know. I can’t stand that sort of thing. But here’s the deal – Tom Violet really isn’t bemoaning his life. He knows he can be a putz. But there’s a confluence of events that sort of brings it all to a head. And yes, funny and well written. Go forth; read. 🙂

  • I totally admit that until reading your review, I had no interest in this book. Neither the title (even with its pun) nor the cover do much for me, but I’m so glad I read your review because this book really does sound fab. I agree that it’s hard to nail humor in books, and I don’t think I’ve read anything this year that has made me chuckle, never mind guffaw or LOL. Will have to check this out.

    • Steph! You break my heart. It really is a great novel, especially for a debut. I really enjoyed it. I hope you do check it out. I’m curious to see what you think.

  • I don’t usually go for humor books at all, but I’ve heard so many good things about this book that I am tempted.

    • Do it…Do it….Do it. Am I getting through to you?

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