The Narcissism of Small Differences (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

What do you do when you realize you’re getting a little long in the tooth for that hipster identity you’ve been sporting your adult life? Take Ana and Joe, your average late thirtysomething thrift-shopping, pop culture ephemera-collecting couple in the inner ring suburb of Ferndale. Today’s hipster would live in an artsy neighborhood of Detroit proper while doing something artisany. Instead, she works at an ad agency while he freelances quirky pieces for the local indie newspaper. They both do a little career upgrade, her with a promotion to a woman-focused sub-agency, and him to a full-time job with benefits at another weekly, only to find that they’ve sold out more than they realized – her main client is a chain of Christian women fitness centers, while his paper is a pennysaver with a solidly unshakeable conservative base, contrary to the job recruiter’s promises. Can Ana and Joe survive this reboot? The Narcissism of Small Differences isn’t making any promises, but the journey is classic Zadoorian, filled with lots of Detroit-iana, classic asides, and two heroes you can’t help but root for.

— Daniel Goldin


A hilarious and poignant novel about growing up, buying in, selling out, and the death of irony.

“[A] warm, surprisingly playful novel about middle-age crisis . . . Zadoorian’s obvious affection for Detroit, along with his enthusiasm for his characters’ pursuit of meaningful lives, makes this a very enjoyable read.” —Library Journal

Joe Keen and Ana Urbanek have been a couple for a long time, with all the requisite lulls and temptations, yet they remain unmarried and without children, contrary to their Midwestern values (and parents’ wishes). Now on the cusp of forty, they are both working at jobs that they’re not even sure they believe in anymore, but with significantly varying returns. Ana is successful, Joe is floundering—both in limbo, caught somewhere between mainstream and alternative culture, sincerity and irony, achievement and arrested development.

Set against the backdrop of bottomed-out 2009 Detroit, a once-great American city now in transition, part decaying and part striving to be reborn, The Narcissism of Small Differences is the story of an aging creative class, doomed to ask the questions: Is it possible to outgrow irony? Does not having children make you one? Is there even such a thing as selling out anymore?

More than a comedy of manners, The Narcissism of Small Differences is a comedy of compromise: the financial compromises we make to feed ourselves; the moral compromises that justify our questionable actions; the everyday compromises we all make just to survive in the world. Yet it’s also about the consequences of those compromises— and the people we become because of them—in our quest for a life that is our own and no one else’s.

About the Author

MICHAEL ZADOORIAN is the critically praised author of Beautiful Music, as well as The Leisure Seeker—the basis for the 2018 Sony Pictures Classics film starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. Zadoorian is a recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship in the Literary Arts, the Columbia University Anahid Literary Award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, the GLIBA Great Lakes Great Reads award, and a Michigan Notable Book Award. His other books are Second Hand: A Novel, and the story collection The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit. His work has appeared in the Literary Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, American Short Fiction, Witness, Great Lakes Review, North American Review, Detroit Noir, and the Huffington Post. A lifelong resident of the Detroit area, he lives with his wife in a 1937 bungalow filled with cats and objects that used to be in the houses of other people. His latest novel is The Narcissism of Small Differences.

Praise For…

Zadoorian’s comedy of contemporary manners resonates by virtue of its introspective characters and depictions of the small moments in life that, taken together, have great significance. Piquantly titled chapters (‘Out Come the Freaks’) provide additional comic snap. Zadoorian’s subtle, timely story hits the mark.
— Publishers Weekly

Detroit in 2009 is depicted as a place whose glory days are behind it and whose future is uncertain. Ana and Joe are neither fortune-seeking gentrifiers nor grizzled veterans, and their need to find a specific place where they belong makes for some of this novel’s most affecting moments . . . [This novel’s] empathy and lived-in qualities are both appealing.
— Kirkus Reviews

A quirky, original novel . . . Zadoorian deftly captures the flavor and eccentricities of life in Detroit.
— Lansing State Journal

For anyone who’s ever asked themselves, ‘Am I weird?’ Michael Zadoorian has the answer: ‘Of course you are. That’s the whole idea.’ While everyone is trying so hard to act normal, The Narcissism of Small Differences revels in its own weirdness.

— Ben Folds, New York Times best-selling author/singer-songwriter

Michael Zadoorian writes his characters with wit, humor, and compassion—clearly, he loves them, and this warmth comes shining through.
— Mira T. Lee, author of Everything Here Is Beautiful

Product Details
ISBN: 9781617758171
ISBN-10: 1617758175
Publisher: Akashic Books, Ltd.
Publication Date: May 5th, 2020
Pages: 304
Language: English