Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Books – All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman

Although it was published back in 2003, All My Friends Are Superheroes is a book I keep hearing about recently. It’s a sort of humorous love story with a touch of magic realism, and a touch of something truly wonderful. And, I think, lovely. That’s the main way I’d describe this book. It’s just lovely. Its central character is Tom, an ordinary young man. Ordinary, that is, apart from the fact that all his friends are superheroes. Although of course, if all your friends are superheroes and being a superhero is the norm, not being a superhero is out of the ordinary.

At his wedding to the Perfectionist (whose superpower is the ability to make everything perfect), her ex-boyfriend Hypno hypnotises Perf so that she can no longer see Tom. He becomes completely invisible to her. The book then follows Tom’s attempts to try and make his existence known to her, while she deals with the grief of his disappearance. Meanwhile we’re introduced to the rest of the superheroes in Tom’s life.

What I like about the superheroes in this novel is that there’s all very minor superheroes. Most of their superpowers are little strange things, like The Spooner, who knows exactly who needs hugging at any time and where they are to be hugged. There’s the Businessman, who knows exactly how much money everybody earns. And some of these little things make me think: well everybody is a superhero. With characters like The Couch Surfer or The Stress Bunny, I kept thinking, yeah, I know someone a bit like that – someone who basically has that superpower, who always knows how to put people at ease, or doesn’t care what people think. It’s just such a clever, funny and thoughtful idea.

The book is written in a detached and matter-of-fact style, which for me really increases the humour. It dips in and out of the thoughts of several characters and, beyond the main storyline, offers us portraits of the other superheroes in Toronto, every one as funny as the next. But it’s far more than simply a funny novel – there’s something ridiculous, of course, about The Perfectionist being unable to see her husband although everybody else can, but there’s also something incredibly poignant and tragic about it. For all its humour and light tone, I found bits of the novella really moving as well.

So, it’s not simply a funny and wacky premise: it’s also just a sheer joy to read. The novelty of the idea would be less effective, I think, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s also touchingly and carefully written. Even if many of the characters are naturally reduced to stereotypes – to the superpowers which are the embodiment of their personalities – it still works. And The Perfectionist and Tom go beyond that. Their relationship (before he becomes invisible to her) is deftly and lovingly drawn for the reader. For all that this book is farfetched, fantastical and odd, you believe it. At least, I do. At its heart, behind the superpowers and the humour, it’s simply a really nice love story.

So here are the reasons why you should read All My Friends Are Superheroes: it is funny, it is sweet, it is original, it is inventive, it is bizarre – and it is truly such an incredibly lovely book. And it took me about an hour and a half to read – it’s very short – so you have absolutely no excuse not to read it.

Greatest strength: I suppose I’d have to say the idea itself – the lovely imaginativeness and originality that this book brims with.

Greatest weakness: I’m not sure I can think of one. Im not saying it’s the greatest book ever written or that it will change your life, but it is a lovely story  as the book it is, it is the best it can be.

Let’s finish on a quote: The final stage of finding your superhero name is accepting how little difference it really makes. Okay, there’s this thing you can do, a thing you can do like no other person on the planet. That makes you special, but being special really doesn’t mean anything. You still have to get dressed in the morning. Your shoelaces still break. Your lover will still leave you if you don’t treat her right.

Next week: Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto

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