Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-11-10
- Reviewer: Staff
The latest novel from Bronsky (The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine) sets out to be a "cruel comic romp," filled with caustic, eccentric folk and ending in a kind of redemption. The main character, a 17-year-old boy named Marek maimed and disfigured after an attack by a Rottweiler, is as corrosive as acid. One day Marek's cold mother, Claudia, tricks him into going to a support group "for cripples." The others in the group, one blind, another in a wheelchair, all afflicted in some way but distinguishable on the page only by their disabilities, come together under the direction of "the guru" who decides to make a film about them. Marek falls for the beautiful Janne, who is in a wheelchair, and is also being pursued by the blind Marlon. The novel takes an abrupt turn when Marek's father dies, and Marek must leave the group to attend the funeral. He meets his young step-brother, whose mother was Marek's au pair and for whom Marek's father left Claudia. The two story lines have little in common, and the resolution at the end of the book is not at all believable, having to do with the identities of the guru and each of the young people in the group. Bronsky's novel strives for absurdist humor but falls short. (Oct.)
A tender portrait of European adolescence
Russian-born Alina Bronsky made a splash with 2011’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, with praise from sources as varied as The Daily Beast and the Financial Times. She’s back with a third novel, Just Call Me Superhero, serving up more biting wit and a no-frills style that readers can eat up in big, satisfying chunks.
It’s been a year since Marek, a 17-year-old from Berlin, was mauled by a Rottweiler. Perpetually hidden behind sunglasses, he avoids mirrors and most people, struggling with their shocked reactions to the sight of his face. It takes a trick by his mother, no-nonsense divorce lawyer Claudia, to get him to a support group, but one look at the beautiful wheelchair-bound Janne keeps him at the meeting. Though he despises his other new cohorts and their leader, dubbed “the Guru,” his longing for the ice-cold Janne keeps him coming back. A trip to the countryside tests his maturity and puts him at odds with the group, but when a family emergency calls him away, he finds he might need those “cripples” more than he realized. Whisked off to the home of his young stepmother and the half-brother he barely knows, Marek faces a gauntlet of challenges to his self-absorption. Through this, he begins his journey to self-acceptance.
A twist ending comes out of left field, but the sum of Just Call Me Superhero is greater than its disparate plot parts: Bronsky’s sharp humor, her deftly painted characters and Marek’s strong narrative voice are all it needs. A painful, tender, very funny bildungsroman void of sentimentality, Bronsky’s book captures contemporary European adolescence in one delicious swoop. Adults and teens should enjoy it equally.