Aresental Pulp Press, 2017
Reviewed by Heather Froese
Daniel Zomparelli’s Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person is a collection of short stories forefronting human connection: from obsession with strangers’ passing comments to online dating, to conversations with the dead. Most stories are focused on the romance – or the lack thereof – that arises from digital communication within the gay community. As readers, we are transported from mind to mind, body to body, with a group of men. Each perspective is different, but they are fundamentally connected in that that they appear in each other’s lives as they do in small and intertwined gay communities.
Zomparelli said on his publisher’s website, “I thought about all the times I saw exes of the same guy date each other and how close we all become out of necessity, how that automatically turns us into a family, whether we like it or not.”
The interwoven personal stories are effective and intriguing. Chapter to chapter, Zomparelli turns his reader full circle and slowly reveals how each individual experience becomes part of a larger one. Characters are friends, exes, co-workers, brothers yet each point of view mentions the death of one sickly woman who becomes their pseudo mother figure. The characters who were once so separate begin to talk of the woman and gradually unite.
“This simultaneous descent into panic, depression, and mourning is also mirrored in their relationships with other men– often romantic, sometimes hostile, but always precarious: “dad told me you were back at work, and I angrily went to find you. i was furious that you had left us alone for three years. when i got to your desk, everything was empty. i went back home and searched for a necklace you always wore and texted my ex, asking him to please take care of me, as i wasn’t holding up so well. he told me to stop. i fell apart, and all i had left of you was your necklace.
Zomparelli details the relationships brilliantly often using magic realism to signal the separation between real life and fantasy. In one storyline, a couple embarks in a polyamorous relationship with a ghost. In another, the character is a monster who zips himself into a suit of human skin in pursuit of love.
In that same Arsenal Pulp interview Zomparelli said, “I’ve always been drawn to magical realism for its escapist quality, but also its way of highlighting human psychology… My hope is that these characters don’t disrupt the realistic elements of the book, but create a better sense of empathy for someone dealing with anxiety or grief or other mental health concerns that don’t always show us at our best. I’ve always loved the idea of queers as magical, so I wanted this book to take that idea and mix it with the very real mental struggles we deal with.”
The supernatural elements in an otherwise graphically realistic book are unexpected but emotionally charged as is its hostile title. Witty rather than unapproachable or aloof, it packs a punch. The multiple perspectives and otherworldly elements highlight the diversity of Zomparelli’s writing. Both harsh reality and daydream, deep loves and cruel loss, anyone who has been through these experiences will find in Zomparelli’s collection, a communal embrace.