Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Matadors by Steve Bauman

Michael Norton has been seeing ghosts.

Not the romantic or friendly variety, of course. These are the Ghostbusters kind, creating chaos whenever they appear. They keep him up at night and his ambitions down at his low-end retail job in lovely and scenic Vermont.

Mostly, they keep his social calendar empty as he pines over wasted years and lost loves. Lots and lots of pining. Piles of pine, even. Enough to build a nice end table with.

As Michael stumbles towards his 40th birthday, he creates a Facebook account. While everyone else uses it as a social hub, it serves as his daily reminder that he’s getting older, less photogenic, and more anti-social.

Before he’s able to delete his account, he’s contacted on the site by an old roommate, a fellow “Matador” from college, and before he knows it he has an actual social engagement. As the drink count rises, what starts out as a night of catching-up quickly spirals out of control as decades-old secrets are revealed, militant vegans go on the attack, boxes are opened and then quickly closed, stoners philosophize about videogames, and Michael finds himself in the arms of a pierced college student. It’s a night that will either save him or expose the boiling sea of crazy that he’s always trying to suppress.

Matadors is a humorous and heartbreaking novel about reconnecting with your past and trying to maintain some measure of dignity, even when you had none in the first place.

This was a different kind of story than I expected. I don’t mean this in a negative way; on the contrary, I really enjoyed it.

What drives the novel is the main character, Michael Norton. He is a wonderfully real character, with plenty of flaws that come out throughout the book. He is seriously un-cool, but the reader begins to like him despite this, or maybe because of this. He’s envious and obsessive, and feels at odds with the world around him. Who’s not felt this way? That’s why he’s so effective as a protagonist.

The writing is good, although I do wish the story had been a bit longer. There were a few loose ends which deserved a tidier conclusion. Also, a few editing errors got in the way of the sentences’ flow, but this is easily fixed and might not bother some of you.

I definitely recommend this to all of you who love to read things that are different. There is a tinge of philosophy to the story that elevates it to one that will linger in your head days after you finish it. I’ll be looking forward to more books by this author.

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