Sunday, September 2, 2007

Design Flaws of the Human Condition

"Humans are an absolute miracle of design. We come in all these fun shapes and sizes and we can survive all sorts of hardship and mistreatment and be practically as good as new the next day - try pouring a bottle of bourbon down your toaster and see just how well it works the next day - but the design's not perfect. Nothing is. And just because you love somebody won't make them love you back."

That is my favorite quote from Design Flaws of the Human Condition which accurately describes the most glaring design flaw in all of us humans; our flawed capacity to love and be loved.

The classic example of a design flaw is the Ford Pinto; introduced in 1971 as the first Ford subcompact, it was small and peppy, fuel efficient and got great gas mileage. The flaw? A gas tank under the rear axle, which meant that it exploded on impact.

Thirty five years later, Paul Schmidtberger explores the theory of design flaws – those slight imperfections which with a little forethought might have been avoided – as applied to people (not machines) in the modern world. The result is hilarious.

The human condition is always a rich source of humor and pathos and Schmitberger captures both in this story of two quintessential New Yorkers who meet in an anger management course. Iris and Ken take us on a whirlwind tour of modern love, friendship, architecture, career woes, espionage techniques, loyalty and infidelity.

You may recall, I was in the middle of reading this when my Irex crashed. I was so involved in the character's lives that I actually contemplated going out and buying a paper copy! Fortunately, I came to my senses and loaded it on my Palm. Once it was loaded, I finished it in once sitting. Basically, I couldn't put it down.

There are some literary critics out there that say things like; 'the plot is contrived', 'the dialogue is trite', 'the situations are not all realistic' and blah, blah, blah. But I am a reader not a critic. And here is my bottom line: in the last three weeks I read 11 books and this was by far my favorite.

Design Flaws of the Human Condition is highly recommended. If nothing else, it is a great alternative to the standard summer reading of thrillers and chick-lit.

Here is the Publisher’s description:

As can only happen in New York, two strangers find themselves railroaded into an anger-management class, where they soon become fast friends. Iris is there because of an eminently justifiable meltdown on a crowded flight, whereas Ken got caught defacing library books with rude (but true!) messages about his former boyfriend. The boyfriend that he caught in bed with another man.

Needless to say, Iris and Ken were cosmically destined to be friends. What follows is a strikingly original comedy as Ken enlists Iris to infiltrate his ex-boyfriend’s life in the hope of discovering that he’s miserable. And Iris reciprocates, dispatching Ken to work himself into the confidence of her own boyfriend, whom she suspects of cheating. But what if Ken’s ex isn’t crying himself to sleep? What if he’s not the amoral fiend Ken wants to believe he is? And what should Iris do when her worst suspicions start to come true?

Exactly how perfect do we have the right to expect our fellow human beings to be? Anger, betrayal, loyalty, and friendship—Design Flaws of the Human Condition explores these universal themes with wisdom, compassion, and a wickedly irreverent sense of humor.

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