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Shelf Awareness: "Bronsky is at her best."

Date: Oct 27 2014

Just Call Me Superhero by Alina Bronsky, trans. by Tim Mohr (Europa Editions, $16 trade paper, 9781609452292, November 4, 2014)

Teenager Marek's face was horribly disfigured in a much-publicized Rottweiler attack. He has joined a support group for young people with physical and mental impairments that meets in the meditation room of the Family Services Center in Berlin. There, he encounters the stunning and wheelchair-bound Janne, along with an 18-year-old drag queen, a handsome blind boy, a kid with progressive organ failure and another with a prosthetic leg, all under the guidance of the nervous counselor they call the guru, who intends to capture what happens among them in a documentary film.

Marek, formerly photogenic, was once the star of his young theater company, but now he's afraid to be a part of any group. He doesn't want to be touched physically or emotionally. He's an angry handful for his single mother, a lawyer, as he tries to readjust to society with a face that makes people gasp. When he falls in love with the seductive Janne, he has to learn to control his own vicious Rottweiler of jealousy.

This brave entourage of disabled misfits and their guru/filmmaker set off into the forest on a weeklong field trip to make their documentary at a three-story, state-of-the-art, handicapped-accessible villa. But their project is interrupted by reality: Marek's father, who ran off with the family's pregnant au pair, has fallen to his death in the Swiss mountains. The second half of the novel centers around his spectacular vodka-laced Ukrainian funeral, a complicated family collision with Marek's six-year-old half-brother and widowed young stepmother that completes Marek's return to life.

Russian-born writer Alina Bronsky (Broken Glass Park) has a gift for transforming an awkward moment into a jewel of revelation that makes her story rich in genuine character comedy. The plotting is deft and assured; a radical turn midway through the book still feels of a piece, with a cumulative emotional impact as Marek embraces the other, unknown part of his family and comes to terms with his hatred of dogs and loathing of his own disfigurement. Marek is Bronsky's centerpiece and an expertly manipulated narrator for both halves of the story. He leaves out just one little detail, and Bronsky cleverly waits until nearly the end before casually dropping her big surprise, which quietly changes everything. In this, her third novel, Bronsky is at her best.

--Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

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