Sunday, May 20, 2018

Little Disasters

Little Disasters by Randall Klein
Penguin Random House; 5/22/18
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735221680

Little Disasters by Randall Klein is a recommended debut novel that follows two couples (via the narration of the men) during one disastrous year.

Two men, Michael and Paul meet in 2009 at the Brooklyn hospital where their partners, Rebecca and Jenny, are in the delivery room. Michael is an artist and furniture maker and his wife Rebecca is a cookie entrepreneur. Paul is an actor and paralegal and his partner Jenny is a writer. Michael and Rebecca take home their son while Paul and Jenny mourn the death of their son. Paul later calls Michael to have him transform the nursery to an office for Jenny. He also invites the two over for dinner, which is a disaster. Michael accepts the job, which also marks the start of his affair with Jenny.

At the same time, chapters cover a year in the future when an unnamed disaster hits NYC. The opening chapter shows Michael is at the Cloisters in the northernmost tip of Manhattan, waiting for Jenny, who stands him up. Paul is trapped in a subway tunnel under the east river. Some disaster happened which has stopped mass transit, traffic, and electricity, leaving many people stranded during their morning commute who now must find a way home during one of the hottest days of the year.

The writing is excellent, perceptive, and observant with an acute eye for detail. The plot has some built in tension because of the way the book is structure covering a year in the lives of these characters. Basically there are two timelines and our two narrators are in both timelines. They meet in 2009. Events during this starting point in the timeline lead up to the current day, July 19, 2010. July 19th marks some unknown disaster in NYC, sending both men on a long, hot trek home. The novel starts on July 19th in 2010, and then jumps back to 2009. At this point, you have to pay attention to the opening dates and who is talking, especially at the beginning, because the chapters alternate between the two first person narrators in both timelines. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear who is narrating and how the two stories are tied together.

Where I found the novel to be lacking is in the characters and the plot. While both male character are developed and clearly are deeply flawed men, the women are not well developed characters at all and come across as caricatures. From all appearances, Michael is a supreme jerk. Jenny comes across as notably unlikable and difficult to sympathize with. Paul has some odd obsessions, but there is also a glimmer of goodness in him. The same could be said for Rebecca, the most likeable character; she has some flaws but nothing abnormal. Basically we have two very disagreeable characters actively seeking an extramarital affair. Then we have both men trying to get home during the unnamed disaster. My final verdict is that Klein's writing is good enough that I will look for future novels by him, but perhaps avoid it if it features an affair.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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