Paul Schmidtberger's first novel is a witty and enjoyable glimpse into the lives of two Manhattanites who cross paths at an anger management class. Iris is court-ordered to attend the class after having a meltdown during a flight and Ken after he was caught defacing library books with crude messages about his ex-boyfriend. The two become fast friends - your quintessential straight woman and her gay best friend. Together, they begin to dissect each other's lives. As a result, Ken gets the brilliant notion of using Iris to spy on his ex, and Iris in turn enlists Ken to investigate her boyfriend's extracurricular activities.
Ken begins by stalking Iris's boyfriend Jeremy at a local Starbucks but soon cons his way into attending a social that Jeremy is managing. Iris, on the other hand, is lucky enough to be rescued by Brett and his new boyfriend Neil and is soon invited to their apartment. Things get a little harried when Iris realizes that Ken's ex isn't exactly a monster, that Brett and his new boyfriend are actually very lovely people. Likewise, Ken discovers that Iris' worst suspicions may actually be true. The two ponder these revelations and ultimately have to decide what to do. Is Iris willing to confront her boyfriend? Is Ken ready to accept that his ex-boyfriend isn't at all remorseful about the end of their relationship? And the most important question of all - is something wrong with them?
Schmidtberger examines the themes of love-and-loss, friendship, and anger and does it all with flair. Design Flaws is stylistically written --the omniscient narrator creating a whimsical and satirical tone for the novel evidenced by the amusing chapter titles: Chapter One - In Which Ken's "Really Great Day," as Preordained by a Starbucks Employee, Fails to Materialize. Schmidtberger renders a fresh take on the comedy of manners. Each character is self-aware, intelligent, and downright funny which makes for engrossing dialogue; he places his characters in funny (and sometimes unrealistic) situations and lets them dominate the page; and he clearly knows how to exploit human foibles.
The key to Schmidtberger's novel is that is that it doesn't overemphasize the plot. Rather, the focal point is the dynamic relationship between Iris and Ken and how they evolve as the story progresses. Together, they realize their individual flaws and work to overcome them.
Although the writing is uneven at times, Design Flaws still fits the bill for readers who relish comedic situations with sharp dialogue, witty banter, and biting humor.