Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Andrew Kaufman - All My Friends Are Superheroes
Despite the strange world that Andrew Kaufman's book is set in – one populated by a limited, but significant number of superheros (Toronto, Canada has 249 Superheroes we learn, “None of whom have secret identities.”) - the story is actually about that most important of ideas. The human condition.
In this case, Tom our hero, isn't of the super variety. He is an ordinary guy, whose friends and friends of friends all have particular special abilities. His girlfriend, The Perfectionist, can put things in order with the power of her mind. Unfortunately, on her wedding day, her jealous ex-boyfriend “Hypno” uses his own superpower to hypnotise The Perfectionist into not seeing Tom.
For reasons too complex to go into here, Tom has the length of a short flight to Vancouver to get The Perfectionist to see him, otherwise their love will be destroyed and his heart broken.
Now anyone who has suffered from unrequited love, will know Tom's predicament. To be invisible to the one you most desire is an unpleasant experience, but to be in that situation, while knowing that the other loves you intensely and can't understand your absence is pure torture.
The beauty of Andrew Kaufman's work though isn't this bizarre concoction of a world. It's the little aspects of the lives of those living in it that illuminate our own, non-super, ordinary lives. There is a beautiful moment in the book, described by Tom as he reflects on his love affair with The Perfectionist, and in particular their first night together.
The Perfectionist takes him to a hitherto unseen room in her house. Inside there are only two boxes. One labeled “Lover” one labeled “Friend”. She makes him choose which one to get in. Tom picks up the one marked “Friend” and puts it into the other.
“Then he turned around, picked up the Perfectionist, and lifted her inside the boxes. He climbed in with her. In the morning, there wasn't much left of either box.”
What starts off as a seemingly clunky metaphor, becomes a beautifully surreal examination of the complexities of relationships.
Many reviews of the book concentrate on the small little vignettes of other superheros. The Projectionist, The Battery, The Sloth, The Wild Mood Swinger. The details don't matter, but the names hint at their flaws and thus become more of a metaphor for us mere mortals than any description of human life can do.
Tom's desperate struggle to get his lover to see him is really about how we all struggle with the odds stacked against us. His solution to the problem, is of course, a triumph of logic, rather than some fantastical unknown super power that some may expect. That in itself hints at the solution to all of our problems.