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Posts Tagged ‘siblings’

Intermittent Explosive Disorder: An Interview with Matt Sumell

February 17, 2015 | by


Matt Sumell

In Spring 2012, The Paris Review published Matt Sumell’s short story “Toast,” in which the narrator, Alby, humiliates his girlfriend so creatively, and so often, that she ends the relationship. “Over the next few years,” Alby says in a typical passage, “I changed from a mostly passive prick to a mostly aggressive one, sexing a lot of girls and I’m pretty sure contracting HPV in my throat.”

“Toast” appears in Making Nice, Sumell’s first book, a collection of linked stories all told from Alby’s perspective. He’s a thirty-year-old having a hell of a time navigating the world since his mother died from cancer. Sumell’s stories are pugnacious, figuratively and literally. In “Punching Jackie,” Alby spars with his sister; in “OK,” he pushes his one-legged father over the side of a boat. Even when he isn’t taking anyone to task, the stories are full of fighting words: bitterness at the world, anger with fate, and misunderstanding of circumstance. Alby is lost. His outlets for self-discovery and definition are few and far between. Making Nice is hilarious in its prose, but painful in its nakedness.

Sumell and I met up to talk fighting, writing, and being named Matt on a freezing January afternoon. We ended up in Chelsea, at Barcade, a bar lined with arcade games where the tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces. When we walked through the door, Sumell took a quick survey of the room and jetted from my side, making a beeline directly to Punch Out!! Nothing could seem more apropos.

You just returned from a trip to Manila with your father, Albert, to whom your book is dedicated. Your main character is also named Alby—which doesn’t strike me as a coincidence. What’s your relationship with your dad?

Oh, we’re going straight there, are we? Well, the funny thing about my father having that name—I’m the first born, but my great-grandfather’s name is Alby, and my grandfather’s name is Alby, and my father’s name is Albert. Read More »


August 7, 2014 | by


From What Should I Be? (Was soll ich werden?) (1888), a picture book by Lothar Meggendorfer.

Yesterday I went suit shopping with my brother. The suit was to be a birthday gift from my parents; I’d been entrusted with the task of supervising the purchase. We started out in a well-known British chain. “He’s looking for a suit,” I announced.

“Are you two getting married?” asked the salesman.

“We’re siblings,” we said at the same time.

“That would be weird, then,” he said.

After this, I was paranoid. “Our parents are giving him a suit for his birthday,” I would announce loudly. Or, apropos of nothing, “I’m his sister.”

When, finally, we went to a tailor, I decided to further clarify the situation by being abusive while my brother was measured.

“We couldn’t find a suit off the rack,” I informed the tailor, “because he has the build of an undernourished Victorian chimney sweep.”

“You’re a perfectly normal size,” said the tailor.

“Maybe if you’re used to suiting children and midgets!” I scoffed. No one said anything, so then I excused myself.

I’m not particularly proud of this display, but I think a little discomfort in these situations is natural. Indeed, it can take even stranger forms. One friend said he particularly dislikes people assuming he’s on dates with his sister not merely because it’s creepy, but because he hates their thinking he has so little chemistry with his girlfriend.

I had always figured those families who all look uncannily alike had it easier in these situations. But I had reckoned without human weirdness. “It must be great that you’ve never once had to worry about someone thinking you and your sister were a couple,” I said to a friend with a nearly identical younger sibling. “Are you kidding?” he said. “I worry that people think I’m such a pathological narcissist that I have to date someone who looks exactly like me!”

So, there’s that.