So Dad's around lately. That's it. And I want to tell you things, throw fragments your way that I barely understand. Because it's just funny, flat out, the way someone you don't even know can get up in your face, tweak things that should be so ordinary. Or I think it's funny. Maybe you will too.
Hailed by The New Yorker as "a fictional report from the strip-mall front lines of Generation Y," Important Things That Don't Matter is a provocative, moving, darkly funny portrait of family and divorce, a boy and his father, the eighties and nineties, and sex and intimacy that raises vital questions about a generation just now reaching adulthood.
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About the Author
While a student in New York, David Amsden worked at the New Yorker and New York magazine, where he is now a contributing writer. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is at work on another novel.
Read an Excerpt
Important Things That Don't Matter
Up Late with Dad and Shirley
Dad will be waiting at the gate.
That was the plan. It was late, well past midnight, like the latest I'd ever known the world with eyes open. Me and Mom were exhausted from the flight, me letting loose these dizzying yawns every twenty seconds as the plane taxied in, the whites of Mom's eyes all stained with bloodshot tributaries. The tendons in my hand still stung from Mom's squeezing it the second the landing gear opened up -- she didn't let go until it was clear we were down, clear no one around her was burning to death. Mom hated takeoffs and landings, was convinced we all got only so many. You'd see this in her eyes at times, and not just when planes were involved -- this fear-stained look, like something tragic was coming right at her, right there nipping at her earlobes.
I leaned my head on the little oval window, checked out the flat landscape: runways and windsocks, these sparks in the dark, going from two- to three-dimensional, thanks to the pinpoint flashing lights of white, green, blue, red. I looked at the lights until my eyes watered up, the colors blending inside them, forming these wild shapes. Then I'd have to blink and start over. Out in the distance you could see Dulles, all whitewashed and glowing, its roof like a frozen wave begging to crash.
The plane stopped now, completely, fasten-seatbelt signs binged off, the overhead fluorescents flooded the cabin, making everyone's face tough to stomach: all green-yellow, pasty. Their eyes were gray. People getting their bags out from the overheads now, the silence was broken up bythe cracking of knees, fingers, shoulders, toes, elbows, necks.
"Sit tight, honey," Mom was saying, getting our things in order, putting my Crayolas back in their box --
"Do you want to hang on to the red?"
"Yes." I had a thing for carrying the red one in my pocket.
-- and now my He-Man coloring book, now my die-cast Corvette Stingray and the G.I. Joe sniper expert who was into using the car as a skateboard. All shoved into her purse, next to her how-to-make-your-business-work book, or her how-not-to-stress-out-while-making-your-business-work book, or whatever she was reading, which always had something to do with self-improvement.
I kept busy by smashing my forehead against the plastic window, feeling my nose turn to Play-Doh. I pretty much thought about half the universe in terms of Play-Doh then. In school we'd started playing with it, making Play-Doh alphabets, each of us assigned one letter. Twenty-five of us in the class, my name starting with an A, I got to do A and Z. This made all the kids wish I was dead, but really, I could've cared less about the letters -- I just liked eating the stuff, how it got all salty. You know, like ocean-flavored bubble gum.
"Stop that," Mom was saying.
I was now pressing my open mouth against the window, inflating my cheeks. Drawing smiley faces on the plastic with my tongue.
"I want to be home."
"Well, licking that filthy window's not gonna bring home here any quicker," Mom pointed out.
- - -
Now Mom was saying come on, let's go, said we're ready and took my hand, led me out into the aisle in front of her. Mom kept her hand on my head as we skittered down the aisle, having to stop every second for old people, who all had to look at me with the same glazed empty smile. The stewardesses looked as sleepy as Mom standing in the doorway, their makeup starting to flake off, smeared like someone sent them through a carwash by mistake, waving good-bye, sleep well, bye, bye now, good-bye. To me one went --
-- and the other, squatting down, went --
"Don't let the bedbugs bite, you cutie."
-- which always freaked me out, that little rhyme. I mean, do you know anyone who has any idea what bed-bugs are? And, say you're asleep, how can you make sure they don't bite you? It's funny how when you get older, you realize half of what adults tell you as a kid is meant to turn you into a crazed insomniac by the time you hit twenty. I'm twenty now, so trust me. I know what I'm talking about.
- - -
The tunnel leading to the gate was even brighter than in the plane, and cold. We'd been in Florida, so this was my first time feeling cold in about a week. At five years old this is a substantial chunk of time. We'd been visiting a friend of Mom's, some lady she knew in high school who was stuck in Florida because her dad was about to die. You know, because old people are always going down to Florida to die. It was all sad, I know, but I didn't really understand. Every time we went to the hospital to visit the dad I'd be stuck in some room with a thousand other kids my age, some day-care center run, as they all are, by a psychotic old lady. Not that I cared -- there were enough crayons and construction paper in there that after fifteen minutes I'd have no idea where I was.
"Oh it's cold," I was saying.
"I thought you told winter to go away before we got back," Mom said, taking me by the hand.
"Are you sure?"
"I did, I swear."
"Then why's it still cold?"
"I don't know. When are we going to be home?"
"I know, sweetie," she said, all patting my head. "Real soon. I'm tired too."Important Things That Don't Matter
A Novel. Copyright © by David Amsden. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“Nothing short of phenomenal!”
“There are moments of literary brilliance in this story that will dazzle the reader.”
“David Amsden is an invigorating, original, and sickeningly talented writer.”
“Really, really great...close-to-the-nerve honesty, severe suffering, intertwined with that leavening cynical humor.”
“This book is a complete winner. Smart, charming, fresh, compellingAmsden is a writer with enormous talent.”
Reading Group Guide
Provocative, insightful, and darkly ironic, David Amsden's debut coming-of-age novel explores the complex and evolving relationship between a boy and his often absent father, Joe. As the boy grows up, he learns to ignore his father's flaws and irresponsible parenting as Joe brings him along to seedy bars, drug rendezvous, and to all of his girlfriends' apartments. These moments seem to wash over him, but as he gets older he finds they trickle up to the surface when he least expects them to -- often tweaking his ideas about women and sex. Now a twenty year old living in Manhattan, he must deal with these nagging thoughts of his past, and the questions that refuse to go away.
- The protagonist's mother provides him with a sense of balance and normalcy throughout his childhood. She is the solid breadwinner and the morally sound parent who actually behaves like a parent. At one point he remarks, "I could just so clearly see that I was on my way to becoming Mom's kid completely. I was fine with this, because Mom's certainly a better example of pretty much everything than Dad ... " If the mother is doing such a fine job, why does the boy focus so much on his father?
- The boy has his first sexual experience at a young age, with Claudia, whom he adores. But he pushes her away until she finally breaks up with him. Over the next few years, he often dwells on Claudia. Why?
- The protagonist is fascinated by the blood from Claudia's broken hymen. Then he punctures his own skin to watch his own blood seep up from the wounds. Then his scabs come off in his girlfriend's bed and cover her linens with his blood. Whyis the blood so alluring?
- T.J. moves in and tries to play the role of older brother. The protagonist enjoys having an older male around, especially someone so cool who seems to have it all together. But soon T.J. begins making subtle advances. The condom lesson in the bathroom is so painfully uncomfortable. The boy seems to just hold his breath until it's over, just trying to ignore what's happening. The section ends just as T.J. orders the boy to touch him. How far do you think it went? Does it seem to effect him later on in any way?
- The boy suppresses so much, you would think none of his father's deficiencies bothered him. But when he does lash out, it's by making his father take him to the most expensive restaurant. But what angers him the most is when Melanie wants to call him her brother. Why did that one event unravel him the most?
- When Joe tells his son he's going to name his newborn after him, his mother gets more upset than he does. Explain what she must have felt.
- The boy has such a strong devotion to his mother, he often says he wants to protect that bond by not talking about it. How does his silence honor his relationship with his mother?
- Why do you think that the protagonist is nameless throughout the story?
- Joe's relationship with Mary and Melanie seems to bring out his latent paternal instinct. When Joe reaches out to his son to try to make things right, his Hallmark card sounds like something a legitimate, responsible father would write to his son. When Joe shows up to his son's New York City apartment, the protagonist notices that his father is starting to look like someone's dad. But during lunch, his father falls back into his drunken, tactless self again. Which do you think the protagonist resents more: the "legitimate" father or the unreliable father he's most accustomed to?
- As mentioned, the protagonist has a good relationship with his mother, but an aloof one with all other women. The women he longs for are the ones he no longer has (Claudia, Liz). Why do you think he can't sustain normal relationships with women?
About the Author
This is David Amsden's first novel, which was chosen as a debut to watch by Publishers Weekly and Interview magazine. While a student in New York, he became a contributing writer at New York magazine. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Nerve, Black Book, and The Believer, among other publications. He lives in Brooklyn.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really quite depressing, yet very well written. A good story of the trials of growing up as a dysfunctional Generation Y kid.
An unnamed protagonist recounts his youth, mainly revolving around the divorce between his mom and his cocaine-addicted dad.I really like Amsden's writing voice -- it's rambling, but it's calculated rambling. Parts of this book were darkly hilarious, like when his dad takes him to a crack house and then the author (who is 9 or 10 at the time) watches a porn video while his dad and some other guy do coke in another room. Overall, the topic isn't original (divorce and its consequences), but sylistically, this book is great.
If you're looking for romance don't buy it, if you're looking for comedy don't buy it either. It's a good book that you don't know what to expect from it.
With locations and settings as banal as the writers speech, this novel is sure to gain applause from those with the least amount of depth and compassion. After a descriptive take on a child's unfortunate upbringing by a few faceless, ghostly guardians, the author proceedes to clandestinely outstretch his weak and pampered arms to the apathetic reader. At least Holden Caulfield was entertaining and witty. Another quick-fix for a nation full of smut addicts. Paris Hilton and Jenna Jameson should give this lad a tutorial on the art of quality literature.