Little Disasters by Randall Klein
Penguin Random House; 5/22/18
eBook review copy; 352 pages
Little Disasters by Randall Klein is a recommended debut novel
that follows two couples (via the narration of the men) during one
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.
My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.