cover image Making Nice

Making Nice

Matt Sumell. Holt, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-1-62779-093-2

From the first page, Sumell’s exceptional novel in stories unleashes one of the most comically arresting voices this side of Sam Lipsyte’s Homeland. Alby is congenitally violent, frequently intoxicated, eloquently abusive, a 30-year-old “loser” (according to his sister), and unmistakably American. Even on her deathbed, Alby’s mother can’t think of anything nice to say about him, and so Alby spirals into barely concealed rage, lashing out at his sister (whom he punches, noting, “Siblings don’t count as ladies”), his father (who lives mostly on Hot Pockets), and his girlfriends—including one whom he compulsively humiliates in “Toast” (originally published in the Paris Review) and a waitress who out-matures him in “The Block, Twice.” But Alby’s biggest victim is himself; essentially a hostage to his temper and grief, he is a sort of every-bro. He also emerges as the protector of a helpless bird (although he hopes to train it to “bite people’s dicks off in the dark”), cares for his bedridden grandmother (though he makes a bet that she “wouldn’t make it past December”), and feels genuine remorse for all the people he’s punched in the face (like the guy who said he “should be nicer to people”). This exasperating, pitiable, contemptible man is as beautiful and wounded a soul as your little brother or worst foe. Sumell’s debut demonstrates an almost painful compassion for the sinner in most of us, making Making Nice even more fun than eavesdropping in a confession booth. (Feb.)