Book 26 of 52: Design Flaws of the Human Condition by Paul Schmidtberger

I planned on Design Flaws of the Human Conditionby Paul Schmidtberger being an earlier entry on this blog, but a few things block that path:
1. I left my copy of the book at my mom’s house
2. I had to read all those dating books for guys.

But I finished the book this morning, and as much as I hate to admit it, I was more than ready to move onto whatever book 27 of 52 will be.

For a first novel, it’s not bad. The premise is interesting — people who don’t really need anger management classes meet in an anger management class, become friends, and work together through their relationship woes. It has funny parts, especially in the beginning where Schmidtberger describes WHY the characters ended up in the class.

But if I were the editor, I would have toned down the Hit-You-Over-the-Head metaphors that cluttered up the final chapters. I’m all for a subtle suggestion of comparing, say, a design flaw on an alarm clock with design flaws in a relationship, but to put it out there in glaring black and white was a turn off for me. I was ready for the book to end, even if I did want to find out what happened to the characters. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have finished the book.

Some highlights, though, and there are many that struck a chord with this single gal:

On being single: “Being single stank. Being single meant being shunted off to the sidelines of society. Ken was back to being single and look at him — sitting on his couch bathed in the flickering blue glow of couples and families who were having fun.” Being single has its finer points, but sometimes when you’re sitting on that couch with no one but the dog to keep you warm, yes, it stinks.

On thinking about your ex: “I didn’t ever like the way Brett made me sound. Brett doesn’t bring out the best in me, and while he’s at it, while he’s not bringing out the best in me, he’s making up for it bringing out the worst in me. To the point where I can say, without the slightest hesitation, that I don’t like the way he makes me sound. It was shocking. ‘Brett and I weren’t right for each other,’ Ken though. A single, baseball-sized hailstone on an otherwise crystal-cler day. Who would have imagined?” As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I had difficult time getting past the guy I broke ties with about a year ago. And it was only when I had almost this EXACT realization that I knew I was over it, and him. That guy brought out the worst in me, and who wants to be with someone like that?

On running: “So she ran in the mornings, and she tried to sort things out in her head, and there was never a moment of inspiration when everything suddenly became clear to her. Instead, she plodded along and with time she began to develop a better stride and she began to make it all the weay around the reservoir without resting, and then she began to do it a little faster, and then there was a moment when she first passed somebody else, as opposed to always being passed.” I’m a distance runner, and I became one when my involvement with said icky ex began. Yes, that time happened to coincide with an article assignment about running, but I think I was so dedicated to it because it becamse my way of sorting things out in my head. Is it any surprise then, that when the final ax fell on that relationship, I started training for a half marathon? I think not.

I had to quit that training for a lot of reasons (mostly because I had a book to write), and as I struggled with the decision of whether to continue or call it quits, my dad said, “You know, you don’t have anything to prove to anyone.” And that’s when I realized that I was running so hard because I thought that if I tackled the race, I’d tackle my regrets about the relationship.

I don’t think of him nearly as much anymore, though he does come to mind on some of my longer runs. Habit, I guess. I’ve just started training again, this time for the Broad Street Run. Now that I got him out of my head, I can focus on fixing issues with my writing, and isn’t that nice?

Anyway, final thoughts: good first novel, and I hope the second one will repair some of the flaws.

If you’re working at or ever worked at a big, busy law firm, you’ll appreciate some of the parts about Ken and Jeff’s jobs (Schmidtberger’s bio says that he’s a graduate of Stanford Law School). For an excellent book about being first year law associations at said big, busy firm, check out In the Shadow of the Law: A Novelby Kermit Roosevelt. Great guy, great book. You can also read my interview with Roosevelt here.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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