Tag Archives: Patrick Lawlor

Book Review: The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian (4/5)

24 Aug

I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of Zadoorian before we read another of his books about a year ago. He’s a Detroit-based author and his books have been well received. With our book club selections limited to those available on the Hoopla platform, our previous selections went out the window and our leader chose this book for our August meeting.

Cover image via Amazon

The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian

Other books by Zadoorian reviewed on this blog:

Beautiful Music (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Amazon:

Joe Keen and Ana Urbanek have been a couple for a long time, with all the requisite lulls and temptations, yet they remain unmarried and without children, contrary to their Midwestern values (and parents’ wishes). Now on the cusp of forty, they are both working at jobs that they’re not even sure they believe in anymore, but with significantly varying returns. Ana is successful, Joe is floundering–both in limbo, caught somewhere between mainstream and alternative culture, sincerity and irony, achievement and arrested development.

Set against the backdrop of bottomed-out 2009 Detroit, a once-great American city now in transition, part decaying and part striving to be reborn, The Narcissism of Small Differences is the story of an aging creative class, doomed to ask the questions: Is it possible to outgrow irony? Does not having children make you one? Is there even such a thing as selling out anymore?

Parts of this book felt so real that it hurt. Living in Metro Detroit like Joe and Anna, I felt the setting very intimately. I also felt the workplace setting Ana inhabited and the stresses of a job that she didn’t love. I also related to Joe and his desire to make a living from his creative endeavors. I’d love to be able to do that but I feel I’m more accurately caught between Joe and Ana, being Ana while wishing to be Joe. This book was only hard to read because it felt so real and captured the hardships of modern living so vividly. It was well written and had me pulling up the file whenever I had a chance.

Joe and Ana were very realistic. I could see how they’d get caught in their ways from their 20s, finding that 15 years later, they hadn’t made a transition that most of their peers had and wondering if it was too late. Is there an expiration on getting married and having kids? Should there be? I just hit 30 myself and I can see a lot of my peers struggling with this and trying to decide if/how/when to make these same decisions. Ana’s coworkers are well-drawn as well. I loved Adrian and wondered if I could be friends with her. I think we’ve all known a Bruce in our work history. I’m thinking of a man from my first job and it helped Bruce come to life having that reference point.

Ana was my favorite and I really related to her. Maybe it’s a same-gender bias, but I felt her story more than I did Joe’s. I hated that people assumed she was having a relationship with a coworker because they spent time together. I’m someone who tends to have more male friends than female and I hate when that assumption is made about me. I work hard, like Ana, and the frustrations she had from people who seemed hell-bent on making work a nightmare rang true to me, too. Zadoorian captured the corporate world very well in his story.

Michael Zadoorian
Image via Amazon

I enjoyed Ana’s work life and her experiences with Woman Lyfe. They were just so corporately horrible that it was fun to read. I’m sure most working people have had an experience with a coworker or client who was difficult, but not to the extent of these women. Also, I loved that the horribly-privileged-white-woman character was actually named Karen. It was a bit cliche, but also so perfect.

Ana’s secret-keeping from Joe really bothered me. I’ll avoid saying what that secret was to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say there’s a big secret. I was frustrated that she wasn’t open and honest with him and then even more frustrated when Adriane told her to keep the secret from Joe. I’m a big advocate for not lying in a relationship about anything or keeping any secrets. It tends to become a bigger issue like happened with Ana and Joe. I think they’re very lucky their relationship was saved.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Patrick Lawlor. I think he was a good choice for this book. His voice for Ana wasn’t my favorite, it seemed a little too diminutive, but not enough that it took away from the book. He did great reading the big moments of the book and dramatizing the things that were dramatic.

The question I asked of this book is if Ana and Joe needed to grow up. They’re adults by merit of their age, but some of their tendencies are more often associated with someone in their early 20s. If they need to grow up, what are things grown-ups do? Does Joe need a real job, does Ana need to lie about her age and act younger to get ahead at work, and do they need to get married? In the end, I think the answer was ‘no.’ These two are perfectly functional and making a life together in their own way. If they decided to make changes, it was because they wanted to, not because anyone was making them do it. They were happy with the life they’d built and didn’t need anyone telling them what to change about it to make it ‘better.’

Writer’s Takeaway: This book was a great description of contemporary romance. Today, relationships aren’t as linear as they once were. There’s no pre-defined time to date before getting married and the stigma around cohabitation has lessened. But this does bring with it problems of defining what a relationship looks like and where it’s going. Zadoorian captured this is such a real way and I really appreciated a book depicting an experience I see a lot of my peers going through.

A great book that swept me away, though in the world I live in now. Four out of Five Stars

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!


Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Success! You're on the list.