‘Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person’ by Daniel Zomparelli

Book Reviews

Reviewed by Andrew Woodrow-Butcher

Juicy, funny, and thoroughly absorbing, this first book of fiction from Vancouver writer Daniel Zomparelli looks at the lives of young gay men in the age of Grindr. Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person offers all the superficial, gossipy pleasures one would expect from stories full of dates, hookups, and anonymous online chats. And while these do entertain with mesmerizing force, Zomparelli pays equal attention to the themes of grief, anxiety, and identity that live just beneath the more salacious surfaces of his scenes.

The book opens with “Ghosts Can Be Boyfriends Too,” a story which sets the tone for all that follow. The narrator’s boyfriend, who had seemed to be “sleep talking” a lot lately, has in fact been hanging out with a dead ex-boyfriend, Jared. We watch the couple navigate their ordinary lives together, alongside the unfolding of this supernatural love triangle. Zomparelli keeps the reality of the situation murky, demanding a reading where disbelief is simultaneously suspended and maintained. As the couple makes time, space and meals for Jared, their actions feed his realness for us as readers. And when living Derek disappears, leaving behind deceased Jared’s belongings, one of the big questions of Everything Is Awful opens up: how much, if any, of our selves, our interiorities, is real at all?

This book seems to be a collection of short fiction, and the vast majority of its 32 pieces would readily stand alone. But to describe them as merely interconnected understates the extent to which Everything Is Awful functions as a single unified work. Characters recur throughout, scenarios and even props reappear as the book culminates in the final piece that gives its name to the whole work. The clearest example are the 11 “Dates” interspersed throughout, in which gay everyman Ryan encounters a succession of men sometimes in person, sometimes on apps. Some of these, such as the three-line micro-fiction “Date: Smalltownboy,” elicit chuckles of recognition by magnifying the silliness of real-world hookup culture. Meanwhile, others such as “Date: Monster,” in which a possibly non-human protagonist from an earlier piece meets up with Ryan, are more realized vignettes that engage the people, settings, and themes of the book as a whole.

In each of his stories, Zomparelli riffs on his central question, his overlapping characters drifting into and out of various degrees of true existence. In “Tropical Bill Murray Isn’t Your Best Friend,” we meet an older guy in a Hawaiian shirt at a bar, who for an evening or two becomes a beacon of ease and affability, until someone figures out that “Tropical Bill Murray isn’t even real,” and that Bill Murray is “not that great of a guy” anyway. Or in “Fake Boyfriend,” where we follow a worker at an online service, whose job is to have text conversations with people as if he’s their significant other, but who can’t keep himself from meeting his clients in real life too. These are fanciful romps, and Zomparelli always maximizes the playful potential of his unusual premises. But over and over, Everything Is Awful also shows us the ways in which selves, personalities, or relationships are inherently unstable, and must continuously be spun from our more or less healthy imaginations.

This book, full of hookups and texts and chemically enhanced evenings, is about a particular kind of modern gay experience, and there is a pleasure to seeing oneself, one’s city, one’s generation laid out in such buoyant, fun prose. Everything Is Awful would be a complete and wonderful read, even if that were its only level. Zomparelli’s fluent, easy style and racy content are only the surface layer of a work that is deeply thoughtful, and very intricate. His stories are a map of the many directions in which humans reach out to each other, often unsuccessfully, in order to find themselves. “I was a terrible person. I’d be better as a ghost, or a monster, or a memory,” muses one of his characters, after a moment of dark humour in the final piece. But by then Zomparelli has already shown us that we are all ghosts, monsters, and memories, in different ways.

Arsenal Pulp Press | 201 pages | $15.95 | paper | ISBN #978-1551526751

One Comment

  1. Posted July 21, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    An engaging review which encourages me to enjoy the book. Thanks Andrew.

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Andrew Woodrow-Butcher

Andrew Woodrow-Butcher has been a Toronto bookseller for about two decades. He is the Director of Library Services for The Beguiling Books & Art, and one of the organizers of the annual Toronto Comic Arts Festival.