A Stranger on the Planet

Soho Press  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

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