In nine stories that move between nouveau riche Los Angeles and the working-class East Coast, Kevin Morris explores the vicissitudes of modern life. Whether looking for creative ways to let off steam after a day in court or enduring chaperone duties on a school field trip to the nation's capital, the heroes of White Man's Problems struggle to navigate the challenges that accompany marriage, family, success, failure, growing up, and getting older.
The themes of these perceptive, wry, and sometimes humorous tales pose philosophical questions about conformity and class, duplicity and decency, and the actions and meaning of an average man's life. Morris' confident debut strikes the perfect balance between comedy and catastrophe - and introduces a virtuosic new voice in American fiction.
Includes narration by Sarah Polley and Kevin Morris.
Cover art by Karen Green.
"Highlighted by Oscar winner McConaughey, who delivers the story of two fathers who share the loss of a child, these nuggets of universality are both entertaining and engaging--and made even more so by the gifted actors at work here." (AudioFile)
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Intriguing Storylines . . ,but
Don't Know How I Feel About This One...
I got this book because Audible was hyping it so much, the free sample seemed like it was going somewhere, there were famous narrators, and - of course - the title is very provocative.
Then I read the whole thing so that I could give a fully informed opinion:
1. The book is not "crazy racist." That's what I searched the summary and reviews for before even getting it and nothing seemed to address this point. While there are racial slurs used and minority characters that don't receive the best of treatment, these are always in the context of giving an honest portrayal of protagonist. In other words, you can go ahead and get this book without worrying that your money is secretly going to the Klan or anything.
2. The book (probably) isn't an attempt to actually explore Euro American culture or to create awareness that everyone's suffering matters (what may be a small thing to one person is a big thing to another - regardless of anyone's race). This is really disappointing to me (I do believe that everyone matters and that we aren't going to deal with the issue of race in the US until we all acknowledge that Euro Americans do have a culture and are capable of experiencing hardship, etc - it's part of a larger conversation that needs to be had).
3. The book isn't making light of actual problems that Euro Americans can encounter. The stories often touch on the loss (death, illness, divorce) of loved ones, depression / work-life balance, etc. So Euro Americans can also feel free to get this book without worrying that it's an attack on your very real problems or anything.
So what is the book...?
A series of short stories that Morris somehow got famous people to narrate. All have White male protagonists. Most of these protagonists grow up in the 70s. There's also a motif of true belief in Christianity of various denominations. Most of the men are relatively well-to-do businessmen / lawyers.
I can't lie - you can tell this is a self publish / no editor collection because every story in the collection needs some polishing. With some edits, they could have been a lot more entertaining and powerful. Period. In fact, some leave you asking questions - in a bad way. Morris employs a type of "magical realism" (like you'd find a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel) at one point and... he just shouldn't have. Some, you have no clue why he titled them the way he did or where he was going or why he stopped where he did.
This said, there's a couple of interesting stories. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers) I enjoyed the one about holding a girl's hand, the one about Mike, the one about the wife who had a stroke and is deaf, the one about that poor dog... if you read it, you'll figure out the ones I'm talking about. Each one has an aspect that makes it particularly charming - if still troubled by a lack of editing.
Going in (because of the title) I expected this book to have some kind of agenda. It seems like it wants to express something - but I still don't know quite what. It's a bunch of stories. It's worth reading once, but I'm honestly probably going to return it (not worth re-reading).
I happen to be a minority in multiple ways. Reading this was honestly kind of a painful experience. This wasn't because of who the protagonists were, but because it reminded me that I have never had access to the kinds of jobs those protagonists have. I am a skilled, college educated person, but my parents didn't have the money to put me in a good college or to make the kinds of friends who could hook me up with one of those jobs. I didn't have powerful friends because the kind of guys who could get me those types of jobs (the guys who are the protagonists of these stories) don't make friends with young minorities and offer them the jobs that they offer to the kids of their country club friends. It's just a fact.
And then, there's all the negative talk when they don't think anyone's listening or when the protagonists ignore the suffering of minority characters (e.g. "Black women are always mean until you say hi to them" and when an Asian American kid sees the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, he talks about how "they forced the family to forget" suggesting that he lived in a dictatorship or something before) - it's honest. But as a minority, it's painful to hear. It's painful to be reminded that when someone sees me, his first thought is that I"m going to be mean or ignores me entirely.
It's honest and it's good to be honest about these things. But it still hurt to listen to it. I'm just putting that out there.
Overall, it's not the best thing ever written, but it does share some stories that we don't hear often in our modern age - and in a way that is very painfully honest about how some Euro Americans interact with the world.
It was a good effort and we need more like it - just a bit more focused and with a good editor.
Not bad, but not good. Worth a listen - once.
- J Hawkins