You Were Wrong

Matthew Sharpe, Author
Matthew Sharpe, Bloomsbury, $14 paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-60819-187-1
Reviewed on: 06/28/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
Open Ebook - 978-1-60819-485-8
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Karl Floor is having a lousy day. Coming home from work, the 26-year-old math teacher gets jumped by two of his students, and then he finds a young woman lurking in the upstairs hallway of his home. She's a burglar, but rather than call the cops or wrestle her to the ground, Karl takes a nap. And that's just the first chapter. Karl lives on Long Island, in a suburb called Seacrest. His mother died five years earlier, and he and his brash stepfather, Larchmont Jones, share the home. The pair don't get along, hardly see each other, and are differently affected by the lasting grief over Karl's mother's death. Besides Karl's job, he has few connections with anyone. Larchmont Jones is a businessman, making big deals in Asia and espousing the virtues of high capitalism, but in the end he's as lost as Karl. Which is where our young burglar comes in. Her name is Sylvia Vetch. During the burglary, Karl falls in love with her hard, and it's no wonder: she's formidable in many ways. Larchmont, too, turns out to have a connection with Sylvia. She becomes the catalyst for the novel, both plot and theme, and reveals how Karl and Larchmont are men who simply can't operate unless a woman is around to help them. When Sylvia arrives, Karl senses that she is his life raft and he clings to her. But Sharpe's insightful novel isn't content to simply depict how Karl and Larchmont are "saved" by Sylvia. He's just as concerned with the toll such saving takes. In other words, what price do women pay for loving men? Sharpe has written a painfully funny book. In Karl, Larchmont, and a pair of other male characters, Sharpe depicts various types of men and gleefully dissects their failings: Karl, sweet but passively cruel; and Larchmont, the ambitious egotist. The great question of this book is simple: why are men so awful? Again and again Sharpe refuses to defend the neediness and self-indulgence and self-regard that so many men treat like a birthright. It's not pretty, but it sure seems accurate. In this respect, You Were Wrong is even riskier than Sharpe's previous novel, Jamestown. There, the sides were clear and the jokes easier to parse. Here, Sharpe refuses to let the reader catch him winking. It's a bold move, one that pays off in many places. The novel is about the failures of men, and it's dedicated to the year 2008, a time when the rot at the root of another male-dominated institution, our economy, was finally revealed. Sharpe's novel works like those warning signs we now wished we'd noted, telling us that something essential is broken. Reviewed By Victor Lavalle. Victor LaValle's most recent novel is Big Machine.
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