Domestic Violets: A Novel352
Domestic Violets: A Novel352
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.
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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.
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“Domestic Violets is a fast, fun, hilarious read.”
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“Domestic Violets is a wonderfully readable, riotous story... told with humor and surprising intimacy. ”
“Matthew Norman has written a dastardly fun satire of contemporary domestic life [with} surprising twists on all the old conventions and a fresh perspective on a literary foundation that hearkens back to Philip Roth, John Updike and John Cheever. An astoundingly good read!”