Domestic Violetsby Matthew Norman
“Hystericaland often touching. . . . Domestic Violets is a fast, fun, hilariousread." —Jessica Anya Blau, critically-acclaimed author of The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and DrinkingCloser to Home
Inthe tradition of Jonathan Tropper and Tom Perrotta comes Matthew Norman's Domestic Violets—adarkly comic family drama/b>/b>/b>/b>
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“Hystericaland often touching. . . . Domestic Violets is a fast, fun, hilariousread." —Jessica Anya Blau, critically-acclaimed author of The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and DrinkingCloser to Home
Inthe tradition of Jonathan Tropper and Tom Perrotta comes Matthew Norman's Domestic Violets—adarkly comic family drama about one man’s improbable trials of love, loss, andambition; of attraction, impotence, and infidelity; and of mid-life malaise,poorly-planned revenge, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The Washington Post
Read an Excerpt
Domestic VioletsA Novel
By Matthew Norman
Harper PerennialCopyright © 2011 Matthew Norman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI splash cold water on my face.
This is what men in movies do when they're about to fly off
the handle, when shit is getting out of control. I do this sometimes.
I react to things based on what characters in movies would do.
That's kind of ironic, considering I've always thought of myself as
a book person.
At least I think that's ironic. That word gets misused a lot.
The water isn't refreshing like it's supposed to be. It's ice-cold
and I gasp. As it swirls into a little cyclone on its way down the
drain, I look in the mirror, ashamed and angry at myself.
There's something wrong. With my penis.
It's been an unpredictable thing for a while now, my shlong, all
flighty and unreliable like some stoner uncle who shows up
hammered at Thanksgiving and forgets your name.
The guy I see in the mirror, Tom Violet, the same lanky,
moody bastard I've been looking at for almost thirty-six years
now, looks . . . old. The fact that I'm naked certainly isn't helping.
Like most men who are not Brad Pitt, I could do without the sight
of my own nudity. Back in the day I was a long-distance runner,
all streamlined and put together. Now I'm flabby-thin, the way a
fat guy might look after a year in an internment camp. Worse, the
hair on my chest is overgrown and dark against my pale skin and
I wonder if I should be one of those guys who shaves his chest.
Maybe that would help.
Of course it wouldn't help. That's not the problem. The problem,
still, is my broken wang.
I look at it in the mirror, really look at it, and it, too, appears
ashamed. It's shriveled up into itself, like an infant's thingy. I close
my eyes and touch it, and then I squeeze it, just to try to get something
going. I think of my wife. She's lying in bed, not twenty feet
away, in a red thing from Victoria's Secretjust "a fun little thing"
she picked up. I actually think that's the problem. Lingerie screams
of effort. It screams of forced intimacy and the fact that we both
know she's probably ovulating. We did the math this week. What
I need to do is to sneak up on sex. For some strange reason, thinking
about getting an erection makes it fucking impossible to get an
erection. I tried to explain this to Anna a few weeks ago, but she
didn't get it. I don't blame her. It's a very abstract concept.
Maybe it's the economy. Personal and global financial ruin
could cause boner problems, right?
Sadly, no. This all started happening before the world ended. I'll
have to come up with another excuse.
And so I stroke on, like a fool, like a caged monkey masturbating
in front of a horrified troop of Cub Scouts at the zoo. There's a
sensation, like a phantom tingling somewhere in my stomach, but
then there's nothing again, and I begin to think about the cruelties
of aging. In my carefree youth, sitting in Catholic school, I
couldn't go more than twenty minutes without popping a painful,
trouser-lifting boner. Now, with the prospect of actual sex in the
other room, I've got nothing. Zilch.
How many perfectly good hard-ons have I wasted in my short,
stupid life? Hundreds? Probably thousands if you count college.
It's just not fair.
Finally, I turn off the faucet and give up. In the silent bathroom,
I give my lifeless manhood one last pleading look and then open
Anna is still in her Victoria's Secret thing, but she's de-sexed it a
little by putting on her reading glasses. She's stretched out on our
bed reading a New Yorker by the light of one of the candles she's set
up. I've been trying to jerk myself back to life. She's been reading
"Talk of the Town."
The stereo is still on, too. It's playing some CD of classical music
fused with nature sounds. It's supposed to be relaxing or soothing
or God knows what. But, of course, it's just more effort, more
unnatural things added to what's supposed to be the most natural
thing in the world.
Our dog, Hank, is skilled at sensing anxiety in a room. He's
sitting on the floor on one of his dog mats. He's one of those dogs
that always seems to be bracing himself for the worst.
Anna smiles and sits up. "Hi," she says. Her legs on our powder
blue sheets are long and toned and treadmill-ready. She's beautiful,
my wife, I recognize this, but my body is somehow rejecting this
fact along with all of its sexual implications. If the nineteen-year-
old version of Tom Violet were here in this room, he'd slap the
thirty-five-year-old version of Tom Violet across the face in utter
Three nights ago, after our last failed attempt at this, I woke
up in the middle of the night to Anna moaning quietly next to
me. At first I didn't know what was going on, and then I realized
that she was having a sex dream. In eight years of sleeping beside
her nightly, I'd never heard anything like that. As I listened to her
whisper her way toward a soft, muted little orgasm, I realized that
we had a real problem.
I put on a pair of boxers and slide into bed next to her. She rolls
over onto her side and looks at me. Her small breasts are vivid
against all that silk or satin or whatever those things from
Victoria's Secret are made out of. "You OK?" she asks. Her voice has
taken on this funeral like tone, which feels absurd and completely
I sigh and listen to the music and the sound of some whale or
dolphin in the ocean. "No," I say. "I'm obviously not."
"It's not a big deal, you know. It . . . happens."
This is what women say in these scenes to the men they love.
Her eyes and her face are sweet and concerned for me, but there's
enough tension in her voice to know that she's just reading from
the script. It might not have been a big deal the first time, or even
the sixth time, but it's a big deal now, and I wonder what the man
in her head looked like who inspired those little noises the other
night. Like me with a shaved chest, perhapsor, at the very least,
like me with a fully functioning penis?
"I don't know what's the matter with me."
She takes off her glasses and sets them on the nightstand.
Over the sheets, she rubs my knee, and then she inches a little
closer. "Maybe you're just" but she leaves this hanging. Like
me, she doesn't seem to know exactly what it is that I am. I look
down at her feet, and her toenails are painted red. This is some-
thing new for her. Her feet are typically very functional things,
but lately they're lotioned and cared for. This simple act of pure
femininity would probably be enough to turn the nineteen-year-
old version of Tom Violet into a sex-crazed idiot. But here I am,
dejected and lustless.
I don't want to talk about my penis, but I don't want to blow out
the candles and roll over, either. I'm vulnerable, yet simultaneously
guarded. I want Anna to hold me and tell me that she loves me,
but I also want to sleep in the guest room. I'm like a six-foot-tall
version of my own flaccid dick, wanting yet pulling away from my
only real ally in the world.
Anna's an optimist, though, to the bitter end, and so she forges
on. Like her ancestors, great, blond Swedes from Nebraska, she'll
continue plowing long-dead fields, even as the locusts converge.
"We haven't been to the Caribbean in a while," she says gently,
smiling at me. Her face goes flush.
"Anna," I say, but then I stop. She's right. We haven't.
"Maybe that's where we should go then," she says, and then she
tucks her hair behind each ear. "You like it there, right?"
Two days after we were married, we were on our way to the
Caribbean, stuck in the very back row of some medium-size plane
from Washington, D.C. We'd had drinks at the airport bar and
wine after takeoff. The alcohol, the altitude, and the weird joy of it
all were enough to motivate my wife to go down on me as the cabin
lights dimmed and a rerun of Frasier came on the little drop-down
She kisses my neck and then my chest and then my stomach,
working her way downward. My heart is running and I'm nostalgic
as I touch the back of her head. "Just relax," she whispers.
I close my eyes as she goes about the little routine of swirling
kisses and harmless bites.
Then she puts me in her mouth and I hold my breath and
concentrate on the rush of sensations. I think of dirty, pornographic
things and grit my teeth. I think of swimsuit issues and
those creepy phone sex commercials that come on when you can't
sleep. A minute later, I should be as hard as that stupid, ungrateful
thirteen-year-old looking down white blouses in Catholic school.
But I'm notnot even close.
"Anna," I say.
"Just relax." She draws the word out, trying to hypnotize my
penis. I'm determined to will an erection out of thin air, so I
squeeze my eyes shut and concentrate some more. Aside from the
lovely wetness of Anna's mouth, though, there's only this odd,
rubbery little thing that I've somehow become.
I say her name again, but she doesn't stop. It's so small in her
mouth and I feel a fresh wave of that awful humiliation that sent
me scrambling to the bathroom ten minutes ago.
Finally, she pulls away, startled, and I cover my stupid penis.
"I'm sorry. I can't. Shit. I just . . . I'm sorry."
She wipes her mouth and lies down again to stare at the ceiling.
"Tom," she says. But before she can say anything else, there's a
knock at our door, three small taps.
Anna sits up and shakes out her hair. "I locked the door," she
whispers, and that somehow makes it even more embarrassing.
She's planned all of this down to the finest details. I briefly wonder
if our daughter has been listening to this entire episode, and if so,
how badly will she be scarred? I wish I could sink down into this
mattress and disappear.
"Mommy? Daddy? Can I come in? Please! Pleeeassse!" She
Anna takes a breath and clears her throata mother again. She
hops up and opens the door and Allie runs into the room, her eyes
noisy and wide. "You guys," she says.
"What's up, Allie-Cat?" I say.
Her lower lip is shaking. "There's a burglar downstairs."
"A what? No, baby. You're just dreami"
"Nu-uhh. It's not a dream." She's on my side of the bed clutching
our comforter, and Anna crouches beside her, smoothing her
wild bed-head. "He's taking away all of our stuff. He's stealing it. I
can hear him. And then he's gonna try to hurt us because robbers
can't leave witnesses. If they do then we'll be able to pick them out
in that room with the glass."
Thank you, Law & Order reruns.
"Sweetie," I say, but then Hank stands up, the shittiest watchdog
in North America, and growls at the door. There are footsteps and
then rustling, and my daughter is right. There's somebody downstairs.
"See," she says. Tears are about to spill from wide eyes. "I told you."
"Shit," I whisper.
I wonder what someone does in a situation like thisall those
actors in movies. And then for a moment I do absolutely nothing,
as if the situation might simply resolve itself while the three of us
sit here in this bedroom breathing. Then I realize that despite what
both of them must suspect about me and my abilities as a man,
Anna and Allie are looking at me. They're waiting for me to do
something. Waiting for me to protect them. Even Hank is looking
at me now, perfectly still, the rigid statue of an ugly little dog.
"OK," I say, which seems like a good place to start. "You guys
stay here. I'm gonna go check it out."
God help us.
Excerpted from Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman Copyright © 2011 by Matthew Norman. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Matthew Norman is an advertising copywriter. He lives with his wife and daughter in Baltimore. Domestic Violets is his first novel.
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Really liked it. Very humorous at times and a good story overall. I recommend it.
I found, after I had purchased this book and waded through all the bratty kids playing their infantile games, most of the reviews were not only plot spoilers, but book retellers. The book was ruined for me. It was like reading a reun, I had seen ten times before. This book was first person, had a lot of profanity and if you want to save money, just read the reviews, they are like cliff notes. For adults, around 180 pages. I bought this book before I read the reviews. I only read them to find out, which was not told, how many pages this book had, so I would know if it would cover my time, on an airplane. AD
Terrific! Funny, moving snapshot of a man at a crossroads. Clever and witty, Tom Violet is a guy I'd like to know in real life. Hope to see more from this author.
This book is amazing and is deeply insightful.
Tom Violet has problems. He has erectile disfunction, a mind-numbing job he hates, an arch-nemesis who'd love nothing better than to have Tom fired, a wife who he thinks is having an affair, a novel in his desk drawer that nobody apparently wants to read, a crush on his beautiful and too-young coworker, a father who's just won the Pulitzer and is getting yet another divorce, and a dog with acute anxiety. Anybody would go off the deep end, which Tom does, with true Violet flare. When I started reading this book I immediately thought that the beginning did not bode well - the protagonist, Tom Violet, kept going on and on about his erectile disfunction in the most descriptive fashion and I just could not imagine reading a whole book of that. Tom did prove to be a funny guy with an off-beat sense of humor and a hilarious comeback for whatever life throws at him and ED soon stepped off the center stage so I kept reading. In no time at all Norman charmed me with all the characters in Tom's life - his beautiful and intelligent wife, his budding artist daughter, his excitable dog, his brilliant philandering father, his too-good-looking subordinate, his agent and even his mental mother-in-law. They are all so alive and so far from being cliché that it's impossible to remain indifferent especially since they all do something unexpected or funny on a regular basis and the story never gets boring. While there is a lot of humor in this book it's not a literary romp. Things are never that simple in the Violet family and while their relationship with the truth has always been touch-and-go, as Tom himself admits, they make it work because they love each other. The value of family is up-front and center here and all the funny parts aside it's a thoughtful and thought-provoking book that is mainly about Tom's relationship with his father and it had me reeling on a number of occasions from Tom's actions and their consequences. The only thing that was a bit off for me is the ending. It seemed long with a number of instances when the story could have ended right then and there and wouldn't have been any less satisfying. There was even that "the end" type finality to the paragraphs and yet Norman kept going, wrapping everything up neatly and giving us a promise of a happy future for the Violets despite all the difficulties. Then again, there's nothing wrong with that, is there? This is a very good debut novel, well-written, funny but not slapstick, profane but not vulgar, sad but not depressing, and best of all when I turned the last page I was smiling. A word of caution: it is most definitely not appropriate for younger audiences.
This book was a “freebie” for my eReader from an online dealer. As a result of it being free (“if it does cost you something, it is of less value”) I started reading it sporadically after it had been sitting in my library for months. Not reading this gem when I first got it was a mistake, but served as a pleasant surprise when I got to know Tom Violet and his world. Tom Violet has been working as a copywriter for a public relations firm for seven years. The company is a small cog in the machinery of a multi-national conglomerate ran by a soulless billionaire; Tom refers to his work place as “The Death Star,” his supervisor, Greg, is a corporate “drone” and is the focus of Tom’s constant Passive-Aggressive assertions. Tom is good at his job because writing is in his genes – his father, Curtis, has just won a Pulitzer for a collection his short stories, the last of multiple national and international awards. Fortunately, Tom is far more successful in his relational life than is his father. The reader is made aware of this when Tom comes home to find his father hiding in his house from his current wife. In the interview at the end of the novel, Mr. Norton denies having writing “in his genes,” but this novel reveals a talent for building a good story with a good plot, a good balance of pathos/humor, while having depth hidden under the presented trivialities. The author is deft at painting Tom to be emotionally vacant and shallowly connected with a flippant cynical outlook toward life but his actions show he is anything but emotionally vacant. This helps the “reality” of these characters more easily to connect with. As is true for all novelists, the proof of their abilities is to be found in the writing that follows initial success. I hope Mr. Norton’s sophomore effort at least matches his first novel. If it does, Mr. Norton’s writing could be positively compared to Welty, Parker or McMurtry and that is heady company.
Loved every page. This author is talented. He's the male version of Jen Lancaster.
Loved this book. Funny light read.
What I enjoyed about this book, was that it had some pretty solid moments, I liked hearing a male point of view, from a male author, who is introspective, but not obsessive... a change of pace from the YA world of relationships where everyone is pretty much a stalker in the name of love. I felt like I was getting inside information; into a marriage, into guy thoughts. I actually felt edgy for him, when his wife put him on the spot about the cute, young woman he supervises. Or his struggles with his own impotence, and his actual perceptions about it. His relationship with his famous Father was interesting. His father who wasn't around for Tom's childhood, and has gone through a series of wives, is often drunk, but always charming and charismatic. The author did well bringing out all the flaws, but also the connection, you could feel the charisma, while also the disappointment that maybe he wasn't a better Father or husband. This book was a really smart and good read, but there were some parts that felt a little too wrapped up easily. Tom, the main character, is introspective, but sometimes lacked a little emotion. I think. I know I read emotions described aplenty, maybe I'm the one that lacked emotion, I just didn't connect on some things at a deep level with me, where I was thinking - YES! This has described humanity in a new way that has forever changed my perspective. It didn't do that...but it did make me think about things, and added some information that I can carry over from non-fiction into fiction and apply. I felt like I saw every character in my mind pretty clearly, with the exception of Anna his wife. There wasn't anything that made me like her or dislike her, one way or the other. Just all the other women in the book were so much more definite characters, his Father's current wife, his Mother, Katie the girl he works with, had much more depth and description.
Even though the story deals with emotionally packed subject matter, the author keeps everything rolling along at a nice pace with loads of humor. Fun reading! Great for a vacation read or a rainy day!
In all fairness I didn't even finish the first chapter, the language was too graphic and the story line not interesting to me.
I just finished Domestic Violets and I rank this among my favorite books; on a par with Wally Lamb, Mary mcGarry Morris, Anna Quindlen and Barbara Kingsolver. It will be a tough act to follow.
Good book! Wish there were more by this author
I honestly thought this was a fantastic book, would recommend to anyone. Funny, touching, realistic.
Great novel. Funny, real interesting. As a young mother and wife, I could identify with the author's struggles in all aspects of his life. He made it an easy read and super funny. I highly recommend it !!