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.

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