All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
I had never heard of this novella until this video from Penguin Platform appeared in my subscription box a few weeks ago. The title and the premise immediately intrigued me: I have always been a fan of the ordinary person surrounded by extraordinary people. I was also in the middle of reading War and Peace at the time (I still am at the time of writing and probably still will be at the time of posting) so I was looking for something quick and light to read as a break. I know (now, after research) that this a very popular novella and I can definitely see why it has received attention; Kaufman takes an interesting premise and uses that to talk about the nature of what it means to be a flawed, insecure human.
The main narrative of All My Friends Are Superheroes follows Tom, an ordinary human, who is trying to get his superhero wife (the Perfectionist) back after one of her superhero ex-boyfriends (Hypno) hypnotises her to never see him again. As Tom attempts to get the Perfectionist to see him on the plane, he reminisces about their life together and introduces the reader to the world of bizarrely-powered superheroes in which they live.
The real fascination in this novella lies not necessarily in the love story between Tom and the Perfectionist, but in the obvious way in which Kaufman is using the world of the superheroes to shed light on human nature and insecurity. It is pretty clear from the outset of All My Friends Are Superheroes that Kaufman is making superheroes out of ordinary people’s greatest insecurities (for example, Copycat, Wild Mood Swinger, and the Stress Bunny) but it is made explicit when the omniscient narrator says ‘Try it, right now; boil your personality and abilities down to a single phrase or image. If you can do that, you’re probably a superhero already… it may refer to something you don’t like about yourself. It may actually be the part of yourself you hate the most, would pay money to get rid of.’ (Chapter 12) This is not really a novella about superheroes: it is about ordinary people with ordinary flaws, failings, and abilities trying to navigate life and relationships in a world that seems full of stumbling blocks.
There were certain aspects of the novella which left me feeling uneasy. Although the main emotional drive of the novella is Tom’s quest to get the Perfectionist to see him again, I found it difficult to fully engage with this because of some uncomfortable undertones to this narrative. By the start of the novella, it has been six months since Tom has been invisible to the Perfectionist and it is very quickly revealed that he has been living with her this whole time, without her knowledge. It explicitly mentions that he watched her undress and that he has climbed into the bed with her when she was asleep. At no point in the narrative is there any indication that this is problematic: in fact, it seems to be set up as an example of one man’s perseverance to win back his wife. None of this sat well with me and I worry about the deeper implications that lie behind it.
Ultimately, although I enjoyed Kaufman’s writing style and the melancholic tone of the novella I’m not sure whether I would recommend All My Friends Are Superheroes. I think I would like to read some more of Kaufman’s works to see if there are others that I would enjoy more.