Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Making Nice by Matt Sumell

Some of the most memorable characters in literature are unlikable. Humbert Humbert in Lolita is probably the best well known. He's loathsome and vile and yet the book is a masterpiece, stunning and well-written. But it's incredibly difficult to write a book with a deplorable main character and still keep readers engaged. Matt Sumell's novel, Making Nice, tries to accomplish this feat but unfortunately misses by a wide mark.

Alby is angry at everyone and everything. He is reeling from the death of his mother from cancer and he can't do anything but lash out at others and the unfairness of the world. He is a nasty, angry, abusive young man who is clearly lost but unwilling and unable to find himself. He works several dead end jobs. Somehow he finds women willing to endure his brutishness and borderline misogyny and to go home with him. His family doesn't like him. Even his mother didn't seem to like him much before her death. But the bigger problem is that the reader doesn't like him either. Alby may be flailing, struggling with his future, and projecting a persona crafted by extreme grief, but he's crass and antagonistic and those two traits seem to stem from well before his mother's death, not just coming as a result of it.

The novel is told as a series of vignettes about his struggle with life and grief and understanding. It's first person narration is disjointed and random, a sort of stream of consciousness, and even from his own self-pitying, self-congratulatory perspective, he comes across as horrible from childhood onward. There was an occasional flash of humor but those flashes were so insubstantial compared to the rest of the distasteful portrayal as to be almost meaningless. Other reviewers have seen much more redemption in these pages than I did. Certainly people react to grief in various ways and this might be a very valid, if unpleasant way. While I guess I am glad I persevered to the end for this one because I managed to find a shred of sympathy for Alby on the last page, ultimately he wasn't a character with whom I really wanted to spend any time.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

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