on Feb. 25, 2012 :
Who is Michael Norton writing to and why is he so sensitive to the superficial identities of others, particularly those on Facebook? These questions drive the suspense in Matadors, a one-way epistolary mini-novel by Steve Bauman. Yet the underlying question for the un-cool but likeable protagonist is, where do I fit in this world?
Michael Norton’s emotionally moribund existence gets a jolt when he reunites with an old schoolmate from California, Blake “Bain” Bivins, who has come to Burlington, Vermont on business. Bain has always been larger-than-life and a womanizer whereas Michael has always been an introvert and clumsy with the opposite sex. When they were twenty, charismatic Bain was a source of amusement and even inspiration for Michael. But now, at age forty and corpulent, and moreover filled with an adult’s awareness of such things, Michael finds the gap, which has only widened with the years, disorientating.
As in olden days, Michael allows Bain to lead him out on a night on the town where the Californian befriends Michael’s locals almost instantly. Michael is somewhat turned off—read envious—at Bain’s success; the guy’s still got it. Bain is frustrated with Michael’s reticence and prods him to be more aggressive, which only exacerbates Michael’s tendency to compare how his actual self to how others appear, not surprisingly with unfavourable results.
His inability to ‘get it’ is captured nicely by his experience (and obsession) with Facebook.
Yet I joined Facebook and created a profile under my real name, with personal information that can be viewed by almost anyone. For a while, I felt like I was in control of the situation. I added an application that tracks the movies, music, and books I like, figuring that might allow me to connect with cool people. But it only served to remind me how much out of touch I am with the tastes of my so-called peers. Which I’m fine with, so long as I can reconcile my desire to stop judging others for their awful, awful tastes in everything with being able to easily see, every single day, their awful, awful tastes in everything.
Bain’s presence awkwardly illuminates Michael’s social withdrawal and penchant for taking the safe route. Bain truly becomes the bane of Michael’s existence. His presence instigates the emails (within which all these events with Bane are narrated) to an old love that make up this book. Her name has been X’ed out, which reveals a great deal too. As does the fact Michael doubts she even accesses this particular email account. It’s only within this relatively safe medium that Michael can let loose his self-expression, and possibly gain independence.
Such self-absorbed introspection often signals a dull, plot-less story. Yet Matadors entertains because Michael, through his often uncomfortably candid emails, is on a quest. A quest for his own identity and place in the world and the irony is that he’s not really aware of it. The smooth and unselfconscious writing from an often amusing and self-deprecating voice makes it easy to enjoy Matadors. The emails are generally short streams of self-consciousness and vary enough in mood and subject matter to not get tiresome, as we patiently wait to discover his relationship with the mysterious recipient.
I doubt Matadors could ever get published in the traditional world, which makes it a good example of the value of self-publishing. Unfortunately, the old bugaboos of sloppy proofreading are here too with the predominant culprit missing or transposed words. Fix that up and this story transforms into a fine specimen of independent storytelling and publishing.
(reviewed 36 days after purchase)