A Stranger on the Planet

Adam Schwartz
  • Review
By – August 26, 2011
Acclaimed short sto­ry writer Adam Schwartz’s fun­ny and heart­felt debut nov­el exam­ines the dif­fi­cul­ties of fam­i­ly and rela­tion­ships through the lens of its nar­ra­tor, Seth Shapiro. Seth tells his life sto­ry in mem­oir-like chap­ters, each sec­tion detail­ing impor­tant moments of his life. Mov­ing in sweeps of time from the 1969 moon land­ing to the recent past, Schwartz paints for read­ers a sym­pa­thet­ic por­trait of his pro­tag­o­nist: a man alone in the world, but nev­er left alone by his fam­i­ly. From his ear­ly child­hood, Seth’s life is filled with domes­tic chaos: a hyper-anx­ious moth­er, an emo­tion­al­ly dis­tant father, an abu­sive step­fa­ther, and a cold step­moth­er. More than any­one, it’s Seth’s twin sis­ter who keeps him sane through the years. Always a pre­co­cious nar­ra­tor, Seth bat­tles through ado­les­cence, enters col­lege, and begins a string of com­pli­cat­ed romances with women that seem­ing­ly nev­er quite work out as he’d hoped, all while keep­ing a dream alive to one day become a famous writer. As he strives toward that goal, Seth even detours into the realm of stand-up com­e­dy and teach­ing gram­mar, which make for some of the fun­ni­est and most telling moments of the text. Ulti­mate­ly though, sto­ry­telling — and sto­ry­telling is such a part of Seth’s fam­i­ly life — is at the heart of the nov­el. Oth­er char­ac­ters often remark to Seth how he has a knack for remem­ber­ing his life; as read­ers, we are enter­tained and moved by the sto­ries he relays here. Told with an invit­ing first-per­son voice, sharp dia­logue, and just the right amount of ten­der­ness, Seth’s fan­tas­tic mem­o­ry of his life so far might be his curse, but it is our bless­ing.

Read an Excerpt from A Stranger on the Planet

Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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