Matt Sumell * Picador * February 9, 2016 * 240 Pages
I’m a little surprised, honestly, that there are so many low-star reviews out there for Making Nice, written by Matt Sumell, because I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read in months. The main character–Alby, Albert, Al (Matt?)–is crass and irreverent, just a colossal a-hole, to be sure. But the vulnerability! Oh, man, I felt like I was flailing right along with the guy. I felt his pain and understood his desperation as he tried to grapple with the death of his mother (and the Disappointment that is his father). Would I ever want to be friends with him? Absolutely not. And God forbid he try to hit on me in a bar. But as an outsider, as an observer with no ties to or responsibility over this character, I could allow myself to empathize with him. And I most definitely did.
Sumell’s writing style certainly helped those feelings along. He has a unique approach. He’s all over the place, kind of random stream-of-consciousness. It could be confusing at times, but I enjoyed it. It made me FEEL something. It made me connect with the characters, almost like I could tap into their emotional states in a way that traditional dialogue or linear storytelling could never accomplish. Like this, for example:
So I have to wonder then if [loss] could be better explained with numbers, if there’s some equation, some formula that could calculate the force by which my mother’s death impacted me. So shattered was my spoiled-white-kid understanding of the world by it that I’m convinced momentum and mass somehow come into play. Maybe an algorithm could better explain how her suffering and dying divided time into before and after, could calculate how precious my dog became to me as a result, could communicate how his loss seemed like a loss compounded, interest earned on a previous injury. Maybe math could help me understand why–after suffering for so long–I don’t get better at suffering. But I don’t. Every time, I don’t.
There is a rawness to both the characters and the method of storytelling in this book. It all felt fresh and interesting. Alby may have irritated me, but I still liked him. I wanted to know more about him, and, eventually, I wanted him to succeed.
One thing I will mention, there is a whole lot of profanity and crassness (and a whole lot of profane, crass sex talk) in this book. You’re going to want to prepare yourself for that. For me, it was never offensive, but I’m not really offended easily. It also helped that I thought Alby was ridiculously funny; I just couldn’t take even his most disgusting remarks seriously. But I’ll still put the warning out there.
Overall, this was such a good read. I am so happy I picked up the book, and I would definitely recommend giving it a go–despite all the meh reviews.