May 30, 2016

All Heart and No Fist at Peter's

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Peter's Dinner 

Oh, what to say about a man who assembles his menu from the Food section of The New York Times even after enduring its less-than-flattering portrayal of the Man Book Club?  Poor Peter.  He simply couldn't shake his affection for Melissa Clark's timeless recipes.  Fortunately for us, her curation and Peter's execution last Tuesday of a one-pan entrée of roast chicken, potatoes, and arugula, paired with roast carrots and Brussels sprouts, made for an almost perfect springtime meal. 

The only misstep came at the end.  Thanks to a minor oversight, the organic berries were topped with crème fraiche instead of vanilla ice cream.  Most of us would never have noticed the substitution had the cold vanilla-flavored cream not been dispensed from refrigerated Three Twins pint cartons! 

Our 2016 Quiz

Before we turned our attention to Yapa's debut novel, we all submitted to the Man Book Club 2016 Quiz, which was designed to test how closely we've been listening to one another since our last quiz in 2008. 15 questions were administered, with three guys given chances at each unanswered question.  (Paul was absent; he'll get number 16.) 

The questions were challenging, but men you should still be ashamed!  How many times have we heard Armando talk about his other men's group and George talk about US Rowing?  Maybe our poor performance will make us more sympathetic the next time we see our children's progress reports.  Kudos nonetheless to Terry and Glenn, who showed real test-taking mojo, and honorable mentions to Roy and Doug, whose correct answers to some questions kept them from disgracing themselves.  The rest of you ARE disgraced, so start taking notes.  I'm not waiting 8 years before administering the next quiz.

Other Acknowledgments

We should also acknowledge Peter's daughter, Lulu, whose presence during dinner tempered our outbursts and improved our table manners.  While only an 8th grader, she can already outrow George and outswim Larry.  A low bar, but impressive.  Speaking of impressive, John's daughter Ali was named CWPA player of the year as Michigan headed into the NCAA tournament earlier this month.  John was too shy to share this, so I'm giving Ali the plug she deserves.

Our Review and Discussion of Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Sunil Yapa's 2016 novel about the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle had us polarized from the start.  Perhaps it was his ambition (the same event witnessed simultaneously by 7 different characters) or his craftsmanship (there were more than a few clunker sentences--"florid" according to Doug), but his street-level narrative didn't quite work for many of us.

It's hard to summarize Yapa's novel without trivializing his efforts.  The story centers on 12 hours of scripted yet chaotic protest and an ineffectual and at times violent police response.  Through the lens of his various characters, Yapa opines on globalization, illegal immigration, poverty, drugs, family dysfunction, homelessness, and much more.  And therein lay the problem for many of us.  Was the book as simple as its title suggested--an examination of the conflict between love and violence?  I posed the question but no one saw it in such easy terms.

Instead, we argued about Yapa's self-conscious character study and split over whether Victor, Julia, John Henry, Park, et al. were principled in their passion (Peter and Terry seemed to think so; I didn't), reflected a black-and-white clarity (Tom felt they did; Larry felt they didn't), presented as vivid and compelling (John) or muddled and unresolved (Larry and Jack). 

Most of us conceded the novel had its moments, especially in the way its shifting points of view reflected the chaos surrounding the characters (Armando) and captured the same events seven different ways (Glenn).  But if his characters' anguish was palpable, so was Yapa's prose.  He caromed between casual unfinished sentences and digressive high-pitched ones, often in the same scene.  In the hands of a surer stylist, it might have worked.

Rating the Book
Rarely has our post-discussion rating been so polarized.  With two 8's (Peter and Armando) and two 4's (Stan and George), Yapa squeaked by with a passable 6.0 and our grudging recognition of  his undeniable talent.  As Terry noted, if we rated on discussion quality alone, Yapa's number would have risen considerably.

Next Up: The Moonshine War by Elmore Leonard

Roy offered us an interesting set of choices for our reading in June.  Bill Bryson's sentimental favorite A Walk in the Woods was first, followed by Emily Mandel's much-touted Station Eleven, and finally Elmore Leonard's 1969 mass market classic, The Moonshine War.  Many of us had already read Bryson's comedic Appalachian meditation and a few bristled at the idea of reading Mandel lest it be taken as a conciliatory gesture.  Our misgivings were mooted when Roy promised a fine selection of distilled spirits if we chose Leonard's Prohibition era narrative.  An easy choice indeed.  We'll convene next month with our used paperbacks and shot glasses in hand. 


  1. Thanks for the summary. Just to expand on your blog comment on Ali Thomason: not only was she named conference player of the year, but she also set the school record for most goals in a season and took her team to a fourth place NCAA finish, by far the best in school history, only narrowly losing to USC (who didn’t lose a game all year) and then to UCLA, 5-4, at pretty much their home pool. And throughout it all, she has, by all accounts, been a much-loved member of the team. She had an incredible year and I’m sure that, while graciously quiet about it all year, her dad is extremely proud.

  2. Doug that was very nice of you to mention Ali. Yes I am embarrassingly proud of what Ali has accomplished. So with that said if anybody is interested here is a link to the end of season review for UMich women’s water polo:

  3. Since we're all feting Ali, I'll add that she is staying in Michigan to take the MCAT so she can go to med school and, eventually, attend to her father's physical health. As for his declining mental health, she's leaving that to us.