Verdict: SOMETIMES I'M SO SMART I ALMOST FEEL LIKE A REAL PERSON shines when it's at its most biting, but its heartfelt moments lack the same luster.
Harold, the narrator of SOMETIMES I’M SO SMART I ALMOST FEEL LIKE A REAL PERSON, is the epitome of a pathetic, blame-aversive protagonist who refuses introspection. When not updating his YouTube channel with dating advice, he’s avoiding his job, his mother, and his past, until all that avoidance suddenly catches up with him.
Harold is a tough character to identify with, but that’s what makes him compelling. Much of satisfaction of Graham Parke’s novel is seeing the ways in which Harold sabotages himself, as he spends so much time wrapped up in creating strategies and trying to game the system—the system, in this case, being interpersonal relationships—that he fails to connect on a human level. His relationship with Emma, the girl who works at his local nut shop, is a wild ride of expectations versus reality, where reality is every bit as confusing as his most bizarre fantasy.
Despite being a career man who lives with his mother, bestowing dating advice on his YouTube followers that never seems to actually work for him, Harold is notoriously nasty to those surrounding him. He abandons women when they don’t show enough interest. He makes snide remarks about women who aren’t attractive enough as if it’s a personal betrayal. He shuts down every attempt to connect, making him solely responsible for the lack of genuine relationships in his life. He wants to be adored, not in a partnership, which is why his YouTube followers are his best friends—until, of course, they want something from him that isn’t on his terms.
It’s difficult to carry an entire novel on the shoulders of a character with few likeable qualities, and Parke only just succeeds. When it’s revealed that there’s a reason Harold is the way he is, it comes too quickly and is hastily explored with an unsatisfactory conclusion. It’s not that the book needs a tidy bow to succeed, but rather that Harold’s growth is confined to such a small portion of the book that SOMETIMES I’M SO SMART feels less like a novel and more like an extended joke about its pathetic protagonist, with emotional growth as the punchline.
Still, the novel is a largely enjoyable read. Its impact is lessened by its lackluster ending, but, as a character portrait, SOMETIMES I’M SO SMART is an intriguing, illuminating look at the problems with refusing to acknowledge others as people, not pawns.
~Melissa Brinks for IndieReader