A Loser's tale wonderfully told

Useful
Debra Oswald
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 28th 2015 by Viking: Pengui
The central character is Sullivan Moss who has traversed through his 30’s by being a genial drunk and avoiding all responsibilities in life. The death of a childhood friend and Sullivan’s failure to deal with it makes him decide that suicide is the best option. Yet Sullivan cannot even succeed in killing himself. While recovering in hospital he has an epiphany of sorts and decides to donate a kidney so that he can be considered useful.
Circling around Sullivan is a group of people who care and have the shits with him at the same time.  It is this group of friends who provide Sullivan with the means to move forward. Though to donate a kidney, Sullivan has to clean up his act, get healthy and, get a job he cannot do it without help. That help comes from his ex-wife Astrid who connects him with Natalie who is looking for a house and dog sitter.
The supporting characters in Sullivan’s journey have really strong characters arcs as well. Natalie who is trying to balance being a single mother, an ex-husband with no interest in their son, a judgemental mother, the death of her father and an unsatisfactory career. Astrid who is looking to nurture a husband or a child she wants to care for someone. Tim and his wife Julia who lost the romance years ago and they are stuck in an endless battle of recrimination.
I enjoyed being a voyeur in this world as I watched their struggles, triumphs, the self-destruct and the tender moments of love and friendship.
Oswald has succeeded in creating a wonderful contemporary novel of individuals in a community. She has captured their hopes, dreams and failures so deftly it is a joy to read.
The ending may disappoint some people but not to give much a way, I thought it fitting and appropriate as life goes on.
This is a novel about real people who are all trying to find a reason for their lives a way that they can be useful. It has humour and will resonate, a really good read.

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