Much has been discussed in recent years about what it means to be a man in modern America: the belief that men should be masculine yet tender, chivalrous yet feminist, strong yet vulnerable. In the chillingly good A Good Man, debut novelist Ani Katz examines what happens when the weight of expectations comes crashing down on one family.
Thomas Martin was raised in the nightmarish tangle of an abusive home, where his father took out his disappointment on his children. After his father dies, Thomas becomes the man of the house, working his way through college and up the corporate ladder. He provides for his mother and younger sisters, who still live together in semi-squalor because they don’t know any other way.
Thomas is wary of bringing Miriam, the beautiful Parisian woman he plans to marry, to his family home, where she “would notice the skid marks of dried grease around the rims of the plates, the crusty residue at the bottom of our tumblers.” It’s as if every grubby object reflects upon him and his shame-filled childhood.
When it comes time to make his own family, Thomas is determined to attain perfection and nothing less. “We were two of a kind, my wife and I,” he says. “If my life up to that point had been like an old and battered house, she wanted to rip the rot from the rooms, banish the bad memories, throw open the windows, and fill the place with light and air and the breath of the future.”
They buy a Dutch colonial home outside Manhattan and have a daughter. Thomas makes more money and drives his daughter to private school in a Mercedes S-Class sedan. Miriam struggles with postpartum depression and suburban isolation, but they work through it.
Everything is perfect—and yet. His relationship with Miriam is fraying. Their daughter is filled with the ennui of a typical preteen. When Thomas makes a catastrophically bad decision at work, he finds everything he’s worked for evaporating around him.
This is when A Good Man—infused with a low-grade dread from the very first page—takes a seriously sinister turn. The full impact of Thomas’ childhood trauma comes into focus as he retraces how things went so wrong and admits he may not be the most reliable narrator.
Katz has delivered a whip-smart, beautifully written meditation on marriage, masculinity and the thin line between happiness and disaster.