We’re All Damaged: A Novel

werealldamaged_334_499“Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, ‘What’s the worst possible place I could be right now?’ It’s 11:36 p.m. (central standard time), and that’s exactly where I am.”

The place is Nebraska, and Andy Carter, the luckless protagonist in Matthew Norman’s terrific new novel, We’re All Damaged, isn’t thrilled to be back, especially since he’s been doing okay in the Big Apple. True, he’s a subpar bartender, his first blind date in forever stands him up, and his semi-feral cat, Jeter, can’t decide whether to sit in his lap or slash his Achilles.

But all things considered, Gotham beats the hell out of Omaha, the place where, a year earlier, Andy’s then-wife, Karen, announced she wanted a divorce during what he now thinks of as the Great Applebee’s Massacre.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Andy explains. “I’m not a snob. I don’t have a problem with Applebee’s per se. But I think we can all agree, as a civilized society, that lives shouldn’t change there.”

Yet, not only did his life change, but in the intervening months, everyone else’s has, too. His beloved grandpa is dying (hence Andy’s urgent trip home); his mother, Nancy — a local radio-talk-show host — is way too thin, blonde, and right-wing now that Fox News is courting her for the big leagues; his retired-accountant father spends an unreasonable amount of time picking off backyard squirrels with a paintball gun; and his successful older brother, Jim, is still kind of a dick.

Then there’s the Gestapo-like rent-a-cop who prowls Andy’s parents’ new McMansiony neighborhood in a golf cart, ruthlessly enforcing HOA violations; the Glitter Mafia, a group of activists who blanket Nancy’s lawn with sex dolls, dildos, and Teletubbies (the gay one) in hopes of getting her to dial down her vocal stance against same-sex marriage; and the fact that a buddy posted a clip of Andy puking at his best friend’s wedding, punching the groom’s father in the face, and then crashing a car.

On the bright side, BuzzFeed named the resulting “Worst Best Man…Ever!!!!” video the sixth-biggest wedding fail of all time, so Andy’s got that going for him.

All in all, things are proceeding about as he expected. But then Daisy shows up. As is wont to happen in breezy, playful novels — this is an observation, not a criticism — the quixotic, beddable deus ex fuckina swoops in, says and does all the right things to pull Andy at least partly out of his funk, and rattles the supporting cast just enough to keep things interesting.

But what’s Daisy’s connection to Andy’s grandfather? Why does she tell staffers at the hospice that she’s Andy’s sister? Who is she really?

Who cares? Matthew Norman has written a funny, likable novel with a funny, likable protagonist — someone you’ll root for even as you cringe at the things he does. (Let those among us who’ve never flung an ice-cream float at our ex’s house in the middle of the night cast the first stone.)

Surprisingly poignant in places, We’re All Damaged is a perfect summertime (or anytime) read: the story of a thirtysomething Everyman who never quite gives up on his better angels in spite of the universe conspiring to make him do otherwise.

“She kisses me on the cheek,” Andy recalls of saying goodbye to Daisy before heading back to New York. “‘Go home, Andy Carter,’ she says. ‘Shake it up. Start all over again. You’re ready.’”

Despite his dysfunctional family, spotty love life, and history of existential face-plants, he is.

This review originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

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Welcome Back to Snake-Handling Preschool!

HappySnake

Dear Parents,

It’s September again, and you know what that means—back-to-school time! We’re so pleased that you’ve entrusted the education of your little one to the Church of God the Redeemer Preschool. As the only fully accredited snake-handling worship center in the tri-state area, we here at CGR understand our unique role in nourishing your child’s mind and spirit.

While most school policies are outlined in our brochure, “There are No Small Sins, Only Small Sinners” (check your mailbox), please keep the following in mind as we prepare for what’s sure to be an uplifting year:

• Drop off time is 9:30 a.m., with pickup at 2:00 p.m. sharp. Remember: God loathes the habitually tardy!

• Dress code: children are required to wear collared shirts, clean slacks or skirts, and reinforced, knee-high leather boots (no sandals!).

• In addition to safety scissors, Elmer’s Glue, and a 64-count box of crayons, please make sure your child’s knapsack contains at least one pediatric tourniquet, available at most medical supply stores and the I-34 Walmart.

• We ask that all students bring Kleenex for the classroom. Additionally, children whose last names begin with A-M should bring a 64-ounce bottle of Bactine, while those with names N-Z are asked to furnish gauze.

• The Lord loves volunteers, so sign up early! Our fall fiesta is just around the corner, so we expect all you moms and dads to bring in lots of cupcakes, fruit punch, and cookies. Also, anti-venom.

• As announced, we’re taking a broader approach to language arts this year. In addition to discussing The Little Golden Book of Sodom and Gomorrah, youngsters will be encouraged to “think outside the box” by making freeform Play-Doh sculptures of Hell.

• Finally, nothing matters as much to CGR as your child’s eternal soul. Through interactive Bible teaching, dramatic play, and the regular taking up of serpents, we intend to nurture God’s tiniest henchmen. And if the unworthy walk among us—as they surely do—don’t worry. We’ll find them. Anaphylaxis doesn’t lie.

So let’s make this the best school year ever. Get your youngsters to bed early, make sure they drink plenty of milk, and have those liability waivers notarized!

Tetanus boosters couldn’t hurt, either.

See you next week!

Yours in Him,

Donna Magdalene

Director, Toddler Program

This piece originally appeared in the White Shoe Irregular.

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Chicken Soup for the Pedophile’s Soul

Mr. Warren Summers, ChickenSoupInmate #5381

Terra Haute Federal Correction Complex

Terra Haute, IN 47808

Dear Mr. Summers,

Thank you for your continued interest in Health Communications, Inc. Regarding your inquiry into our decision not to purchase your book, Chicken Soup for the Pedophile’s Soul, allow me to address a few of your specific concerns:

  1. First, while it’s true your manuscript speaks to an underserved, potentially lucrative niche market, we’re not convinced that “Jack Canfield’s formulaic gold mine,” as you put it, is appropriate for this particular segment of the literati.
  2. Second, our attorneys advise us that it would be a felony merely to allude to chapters four through eight, let alone to publish them.
  3. Yes, even in Bangkok.
  4. Though we appreciate your frustration at incurring significant research-related expenses, it has never been our policy to offer unsigned clients an advance against bail and/or court costs.
  5. Finally, we realize that your deposition from case no. 345-87-L, “W. Summers v. the Jefferson High School Varsity Chorale,” was forwarded to us in error; it will be returned forthwith.

Again, thank you for your interest in Health Communications. Although we politely refuse to accept from you any further written correspondence, phone calls, or email, we wish you much luck in your future literary endeavors, as well as with the Indiana state parole board.

Sincerely,

Mitchell Jenkins

Associate Publisher

Health Communications, Inc.

 

This piece originally appeared in the White Shoe Irregular.

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Today’s Headlines

 

Washington, DC. The American Psychiatric Association has finally quantified the relationship between excessive cat ownership and mental illness. The verdict? Three is the magic number separating healthy feline appreciation from diagnosable nuttiness.

“There are obviously stable, productive individuals who own four or more house cats,” said APA researcher Cynthia Maddux. “Unfortunately, we were unable to locate them for the purposes of this study.”

Maddux added that while having three cats falls within normal limits, it, too, can indicate neurological atrophy when found in conjunction with certain behaviors.

“Collecting Longaberger baskets and/or Princess Diana memorabilia is alarming in and of itself,” she said. “Combined with an even moderate array of cats, it becomes a leading indicator of eventual mental collapse.”

Shreveport, LA. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, devoted to fulfilling the desires of gravely ill children, has been slapped with a million-dollar lawsuit by local parent Rhonda Colby, after it determined that her son’s lactose intolerance doesn’t rise to the level of serious illness.

“We’re not just talking lactose intolerance here,” says the disgruntled mother of 10-year-old Travis. “We’re talking severe lactose intolerance. Bloating, gas, you name it. If that’s not enough for a free trip to Six Flags, I don’t know what is.”

In a written statement, the philanthropic organization reiterated its decision not to grant the boy’s wish, saying his condition isn’t sufficiently grievous.

“I’ll tell you what’s grievous,” says Rhonda. “The line outside the D.Q. men’s room after Travis gets hold of a caramel sundae. Now that’s grievous.”

 

Paris. In a stunning reversal, several of the world’s most influential cosmetics makers have now agreed to make reparations for the 1980s.

Facing allegations that they “egregiously and repeatedly misled consumers by suggesting that aquamarine eye shadow, Lee Press-On Nails, and A Flock of Seagulls-like styling gel were legitimate fashion options,” industry leaders will instead settle with scores of disgruntled plaintiffs, mostly females in their mid-forties.

Terms of the settlement are said to include free consultations at Merle Norman and makeup bags full of tasteful earth tones.

According to a statement from L’Oreal, the corporations were prepared to fight the suit until a judge overseeing the case ruled that plaintiffs’ old yearbook photos and/or Glamour Shots would be admissible after all.

 

(These pieces originally appeared in the White Shoe Irregular.)

 

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