Review: All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman

944334>>Published: October 2003

>>Finally got around to it: January 2013

The Perfectionist hadn’t been with anyone since she broke up with Hypno. The sex with him had been so good the Perfectionist had taken it for granted. She really liked Tom, was sure they’d become really great friends, but nothing more. She didn’t know if their friendship would survive a one-nighter but she felt reckless and took Tom straight to her bedroom.

The Perfectionist pushed Tom onto her bed. She took off his shirt. She took off his shoes and his socks. She took off his pants. She took off his boxers.

With most guys the Perfectionist would stop there. She didn’t. She was still feeling reckless. She took off his skin. She took off his nervous system. She lifted up his rib cage. His heart beat in her hand. And there, underneath it, she found a rusted tin box. She opened it. Inside she found his hopes, his dreams and his fears. She stared at them. She was surprised to find them there and surprised at how beautiful they were. At that exact moment, the Perfectionist fell in love with Tom.

***

All My Friends Are Superheroes tells the story of the very ordinary Tom and his superhero wife, the Perfectionist. On their wedding night, Tom becomes invisible, but to his wife and only his wife; to the rest of the world, he is as much flesh and blood as he’s always been, though no amount of support from their mutual friends will otherwise convince the Perfectionist. Seemingly abandoned by her love six months prior to the start of the tale, she boards a flight from Toronto to Vancouver to start again—a new city, a new opportunity to craft the perfect life. Tom, however, is sitting next to her on the flight, visible to everyone but her, and he has only the duration of their trip out west to find some way of getting her to see him again before all hope of a loving reunion is lost.

At a brisk 106 pages, All My Friends Are Superheroes presents a delicate balancing act that at any point risks tipping too far into either trite metaphor or sugary sweetness. Tom very clearly represents the plain, ordinary everyman, the 2% milk and bright white Wonder Bread of society. Everyone around him, as the title suggests, is a superhero in his or her own right. But these aren’t super powered superheroes; these are the superheroes of our own personal obsessions, tics, fears, failings, and fuck-ups. Like Someday, Tom’s first superhero girlfriend, with the twin gifts of “an amazing ability to think big and an unlimited capacity to procrastinate,” or the Copycat, who “has the ability to mimic anyone’s personal style. Which wouldn’t be so bad, perhaps even a compliment, if she wasn’t able to perfect her subjects’ style to the point where they start looking like less successful versions of themselves.

Kaufman doesn’t deep-dive into any one “superhero,” presenting instead surface-level parallels via the idiosyncrasies displayed by each character’s power. In doing so, his comparisons retain much of their punch and humour without forcing too many levels of contrived social analysis or forced gravitas.

Tom, however, is given the unseen, untold, un-credited power of cutting through the bullshit of everyone around him. He’s presented as the one sane voice in the asylum, capable of stripping, for the reader, the drama queens, hipsters, scenesters, and social ladder climbers down to their secret, altogether conventional identities. Their powers are what give them the confidence to mine (or subvert) the goodwill of others, and Tom is largely unaffected by them, seeing instead how troublesome they can be.

Kaufman’s writing straddles the line between economy and poetry. There’s an identifiable lyricism to All My Friends Are Superheroes. It’s short chapters are each punctuated by a single thought or idea related, in some way, to Tom’s relationship to the Perfectionist and his plight to once more become visible to her. There’s little wasted space in this novella, and Kaufman makes the most of it while graciously restraining himself from pushing the paper-thin metaphor too far.

All My Friends Are Superheroes was Kaufman’s first novella. It is a disarmingly sweet, bite-size piece of magical realism and heartache—a wonderful idea stretched to its limit, but thankfully not past.

Review: Three Graves Full, by Jamie Mason

15737781>>Published: February 2013

Jason wasn’t sure he could take this. He toyed with the image of falling to his knees, confessing all, and baptizing Bayard’s loafers in a flood of contrite tears. Except that would have been a lie and he wasn’t quite sure he’d be able to pull it off. He wasn’t one bit sorry that he’d killed that son of a bitch.

Mostly he avoided thinking about it—the actual killing and that the world was short one human being because of Jason Getty. The decision to hide the evidence on his property was an enormous regret, of course, especially now. But when the torture of the rest of the problem fell away, as it occasionally did, and the bottom line stared back at him, Jason tingled with triumph. There was horror and revulsion and a crippling fear of getting caught, but there was also satisfaction. He’d stopped it. He’d shut that vile mouth once and for all and wiped the smug smile off his lousy face. He’d seen that bastard’s blood on his own hands.

***

It’s been seventeen months since relatively mild-mannered widower Jason Getty killed a man in his own home and buried the corpse in his backyard. Determined to resume life as it once was, and to again appear entirely normal to his neighbours, Jason hires landscapers to come in and tidy up his property, which he’d been too ill at ease to do himself since the night—after being pushed too far for too long—he bludgeoned a con man named Gary Harris to death with a telephone.

So what do the landscapers unearth? The remains of a body, naturally, but not the body of the man Jason murdered. Another is quickly found for a total of two bodies, a man and a woman, buried beneath the flowerbeds out in front of Jason’s house. How they got there, why, and what this means for Jason’s freedom and emotional stability—and the likelihood of the discovery of the third body in his backyard—are the core story elements in author Jamie Mason’s debut novel, Three Graves Full.

A good suspense novel can hinge on many different factors. Sometimes it’s the strength of the characters and the mystery (or mysteries) they’re attempting to resolve; subversion tactics are also common, splitting perspectives until all sides are told, bringing clarity to the central conflict. Three Graves Full certainly uses the latter to good effect, splitting the narrative four or five ways (or six or seven, depending on the odd significant other and the seldom used canine point of view) as the novel races towards its climax.

The characters and mystery, unfortunately, are not overly strong. Most of the characters feel two-dimensional, and it’s the situations they’re in that inform their decisions, rather than their personalities or natural shortcomings.

Where Three Graves Full shines, however, is in how it draws in the various plot details to an almost entirely satisfying climax. As previously mentioned, the mysteries behind the three bodies in Jason’s front and back yards are not all that deep. In fact, most of the novel’s mysteries are resolved by the story’s mid-point. What remains are the cascading together of the four different stories: Jason’s history with Gary Harris, an aggressive and threatening con man; Leah Tamblin’s search for answers regarding her finance’s disappearance and subsequent demise; Boyd Montgomery’s murderous behaviour; and Detective Tim Bayard’s investigation into all of the above.

Despite being a murderer, Jason grows into a fairly likable leading man. Though at first he seems rather detestable and anxiety ridden, as the details surrounding his own crime come to light—the crime itself being almost a crime of passion with the added benefit of self-preservation—his humanity begins to break through his guilt-ridden exterior. Mason makes it possible to root for a man who has killed in not-so-cold blood—something that didn’t feel possible until he started to reveal to Leah the past he’d worked so hard to keep hidden. What feels in the beginning to be nothing more than a convenient plot device—bringing in landscapers who most certainly could do exactly what they wound up doing by unearthing something incriminating—becomes something more as Mason reveals more of Jason’s character and troubled back story. The lies are a hindrance to Jason, and the more time that passes living in the shadow of a lie, the more he becomes less and less the man he’d hoped he’d be. His call to the landscapers is a cry for help: a test of his own lies, and his willingness to accept whatever fate has in store for him.

The same depth cannot be attributed to the other characters in this novel, all of whom feel more like foils than fully realized creations. Fortunately, their limitations do little to hurt the narrative’s propulsive thrust, and Mason still manages to drive the individual threads to a satisfying if not unexpected resolution.

Mason’s writing is a bit of a mixed bag. For the novel’s first half she relies a bit too often on extraneous adjectives and descriptive devices. At times the writing disrupts the narrative’s pace with unnecessary digressions or observations, but never so much that it pulled me away from the story. The second half of the novel is a different beast—well paced and economical. Mason understands the need for brevity when drawing together the various narrative threads. One near-death stabbing in the middle of the novel and the villain’s final moments are confusingly written, but otherwise Mason’s writing well serves the story at hand.

The Great 2013 Reading List

1. Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine, Volume Two: On Your Own – Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss, Scott Allie, Georges Jeanty, and Cliff Richards
3. Cosmo – Spencer Gordon
4. Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 – Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
5. Angel: After the Fall Volume 2 – Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
6. Angel: After the Fall Volume 3 – Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
7. Angel: After the Fall Volume 4 – Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
8. The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One – Margaret Lobenstine
9. Three Graves Full – Jamie Mason
10. All My Friends Are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman
11. Everything You Know – Zoe Heller
12. Remember Why You Fear Me – Robert Shearman
13. The Demonologist – Andrew Pyper
14. The Dinner – Herman Koch
15. Agua Viva – Clarice Lispector
16. The Art of Sufficient Conclusions – Sarah Dearing
17. Serial Villain – Sherwin Tjia
18. The Vanishers – Heidi Julavits
19. Come Late to the Love of Birds – Sandra Kasturi
20. Flip Turn – Paula Eisenstein
21. In and Down – Brett Alexander Savory
22. The Placebo Effect – David Rotenberg
23. A Murder of Crows – David Rotenberg
24. In the Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami
25. Paprika – Yasutaka Tsutsui
26. Life Form – Amélie Nothomb
27. By Blood – Ellen Ullman
28. Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman
29. The Dark – Claire Mulligan
30. The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
31. How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir – Amber Dawn
32. Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
33. One Bloody Thing After Another – Joey Comeau
34. Angel & Faith: Live Through This – Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs, and Joss Whedon
35. Angel & Faith: Daddy Issues – Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs, and Joss Whedon
36. Angel & Faith: Family Reunion – Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs, and Joss Whedon
37. The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved – Joey Comeau
38. Drunk Mom – Jowita Bydlowska
39. Letting it Go – Miriam Katin
40. Children of the Jacaranda Tree – Sahar Delijani
41. The Lake and the Library – S.M. Beiko
42. The Inner City – Karen Heuler
43. And the Birds Rained Down – Jocelyne Saucier
44. The Property – Rutu Modan
45. Ablutions – Patrick deWitt
46. Girlfighting – Lyn Mikel Brown
47. Someday, Someday, Maybe – Lauren Graham
48. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9, Volume 3: Guarded – Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss, Jane Espenson, Drew Z. Greenberg
49. Gun Machine – Warren Ellis
50. Because of the Rose – Joe Elder (Unpublished)
51. Brave Fortune – Sharif Khan (Unpublished)
52. Shadows & Tall Trees, Issue 5 – Michael Kelly, ed.
53. You – Austin Grossman
54. The Best Canadian Essays 2012 – Christopher Doda and Ray Robertson, eds.
55. Bødy – Asa Nonami
56. Fiend – Peter Stenson
57. The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes
58. Griffin & Sabine – Nick Bantock
59. Malarky – Anakana Schofield
60. Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach
61. This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla – Andrew Steinmetz
62. Lucinella – Lore Segal
63. Flatland – Edwin A. Abbott
64. Blue is the Warmest Color – Julie Maroh
65. The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
66. Fiskadoro – Denis Johnson
67. Moonwalking With Einstein – Joshua Foer
68. Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame – Ty Burr
69. Night Film – Marisha Pessl
70. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
71. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B – Teresa Toten
72. Kitaro – Shigeru Mizuki
73. Celestial Inventories – Steve Rasnic Tem
74. Tell My Sorrows to the Stones – Christopher Golden
75. Anatomy of a Girl Gang – Ashley Little
76. The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud
77. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
78. Angel & Faith: Death and Consequences – Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs, and Joss Whedon
79. Clone: First Generation – David Schulner, Juan Jose Ryp, and Felix Serrano
80. Hellgoing – Lynn Coady
81. The Teleportation Accident – Ned Beauman
82. How to Get Along with Women – Elisabeth De Mariaffi
83. Self-Inflicted Wounds – Aisha Tyler
84. It – Stephen King
85. Caught – Lisa Moore
86. Cataract City – Craig Davidson
87. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine, Volume Four: Welcome to the Team – Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline
88. Savage Love – Douglas Glover
89. I Don’t Know How to Behave – Michael Blouin
90. Lucinda Kartography: Finders Keepers – Lorraine Kwan (Unpublished)
91. Rant: An Oral History of Buster Casey – Chuck Palahniuk
92. Rage of Poseidon – Anders Nilsen
93. The City Still Breathing – Matthew Heiti
94. And the River Drinks Your Tears – Michael Matheson (Unpublished)
95. The Maze Runner – James Dashner
96. The Scorch Trials – James Dashner
97. The Death Cure – James Dashner
98. Haxan – Kenneth Mark Hoover (Unpublished)
99. Finding the Words: Writers on Inspiration, Desire, War, Celebrity, Exile, and Breaking the Rules – Jared Bland, Ed.
100. The Adolescent – Fyodor Dostoevsky