Paul Schmidtberger’s debut novel, Design Flaws of the Human Condition, explores the unlikely friendship between two New Yorkers who meet in an anger management class at the West Side Y. In many ways, Ken and Iris couldn’t be more different, but they’re both thirty-somethings whose lives haven’t quite turned out as they’d expected. Ken’s seemingly perfect boyfriend Brett has been cheating on him and Iris is coming to understand that her job as a hotshot marketing executive isn’t leading her to the life she’d once imagined for herself.
Author Schmidtberger is a capable storyteller whose prose is bright and engaging, though the story occasionally suffers from a narrative cuteness that’s more frustrating than entertaining. From time to time, the otherwise omniscient narrator editorializes, as when we learn that Ken is gay. Schmidtberger writes, “Ken Connelly was gay. Stage direction: gasp.” While the sentiment behind this colloquialism is implicit, its cuteness is distracting and pat. Thankfully, the easy jokes are few and far between, and the story that unfolds between them is frequently and authentically entertaining.