Design Flaws of the Human Condition
Broadway Books Random House
July 17, 2007
Trade Paperback/323 pages
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". . . humor and pathos in equal measure . . ."
Design Flaws of the Human Condition: Anger management begins with strange bedfellows and ends with life changing friendship.
Ken and Iris don’t know it yet, but they are connected. Ken, who works three jobs to support his lover while he’s acting and waiting (mostly waiting), has had a very bad week. He is fired from his lucrative job because of a disagreement over grammar, a complaint made by a rude and pushy client by way of a rude and pushy attorney in the firm. He goes home early to find his boyfriend in bed with someone else. Instead of recriminations, arguments and tearful pleas for forgiveness, his boyfriend walks out with the interloper and doesn’t come back. In retaliation, Ken writes (in pencil) something rude, but true, about his boyfriend in several reference books He ends up in an anger management by express command of the head of the English department, where Ken teaches. Ken also loses his job in the reference section.
Iris, while on a flight from California to New York, is bumped from business class where she must listen to a rude and pushy woman using the phone near her seat instead of the phone in business class. Iris, understandably upset, complains and reminds the flight attendant they were told not to leave their section. Things deteriorate. She has a meltdown that results in her being charged with a federal crime – interfering with a flight crew and using rude language (she says, “Crap”). In court, the judge sends Iris to anger management instead of prison, and the fun and games began.
Ken and Iris meet in anger management and become fast friends, adding another of the class, Jeff, to their circle of commiseration and fun. They reexamine their lives and loves with surprising results that bring them closer together and fuels undercover missions into boyfriend territory.
In Paul Schmidtberger’s examination of life and times in the big city, he ventures into the well known lands of the heart and finds laughter, deception, sadness, and truth. Design Flaws of the Human Condition is deceptively simple as it begins, becoming more and more involved, although it’s not at all complex. Life is simple. People are not.
In a series of aha moments, Schmidtberger dissects Iris’s and Ken’s lives meticulously without resorting to the usual twelve-step, maudlin display of psychobabble. Instead, he peels away the characters’ layers with humor and pathos in equal measure, offering an optimistic glimpse of the human potential for change and adaptation. Schmidtberger’s tale of mishaps and mischance is a delight, and his characters provide wonderful examples of engaging and engrossing fiction and stand up to second and third (and definitely more) readings. Design Flaws of the Human Condition improves with each trip into Iris and Ken’s world, leaving the reader with a sense of satisfaction and a desire for more of the same. Schmidtberger opens new territory with his insight and unique vision of the human condition.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell