Review: A Regular Guy by Mona Simpson (with book club notes)

10 Nov

A Regular GuyMy rating: 3 of 5 stars (A very low 3 stars, bordering on 2.5)

The problem for me is that I just didn’t get the point of this book.

A Regular Guy is the story of Tom Owens, who (with his good friend) successfully founded a very, very successful biotech company.

He now has more money that he knows what to do with– enough that he can afford not to think about money at all.  He’s dealing with the challenges of taking his high-tech company into its second major product–while it is being managed by someone else.

More than that, he’s taking on (or in some cases, trying to avoid) the challenges of his personal life, including relationships with multiple women and an unacknowledged 10 year old daughter.

The story is a fictionalized version of Steve Jobs life, written by his sister that he didn’t know about until he was an adult (it’s a complicated situation, as you might guess)

In A Regular Guy, the words themselves flowed well enough, and they didn’t get in the way of the story as I often fear in a literary novel. The story was coherent, and worked well enough in that sense.

I simply didn’t get insight into the life of Steve Jobs (or if I did, I just didn’t care), and the story didn’t have enough strength to stand alone.

This was true of the plot, but even more so of the characters. Tom Owens didn’t intrigue me as Steve Jobs, largely because I never saw the charisma the character was described as having, and would have needed to accomplish the things he did. Simply seen as a fictional character, he was both unbelievable and uninteresting, which is a pretty sad combination.

At the beginning of the book, I had some hope for Jane (Owens’ daughter) and her mother, Mary. Jane simply faded into the story (and that may have actually been the point– if so, I feel terrible for the real life model of Jane, and wonder what her relationship with her aunt the writer must be like.) Mary turned into a whiny caricature as the woman who sent her 10 year old daughter driving solo cross country to live with her father becomes resentful as that daughter chooses to spend time with her father.

The one character I found interesting was Noah, a scientist who chose to continue to follow his own path rather than work with Owens and his company. He was an intriguing secondary character, and I find it telling that I have no idea if he had a real life counterpart.

I admit, I was relieved that the rest of my book club had a similar reaction, whether they were all to familiar with the details of Jobs and his life, or relatively uninformed, at least about this chapter. Whatever the point was, it was well hidden.

Book Club Notes

We’d selected this book quite a few months back (we pick about 6 months of books at a time), but moved it up a month due to the timeliness of the tie to Steve Jobs’ death.

We actually live and meet quite near the Apple Campus in Cupertino, and have one ex-Apple employee, and at least one member has a spouse that worked there.  On the other hand, the only Apple product in my house was a gift that doesn’t get all that heavy of use.

I was really surprised that 4 of the 5 of us meeting hadn’t finished the book (which is only 384 pages, not a major chunkster).  I’m even more surprised that one of those was me (I finished after the meeting).  One member had a very good excuse (an eye injury, and the book wasn’t easily available as audio), the rest of us just found it difficult to make this book a priority.

As I mentioned above, we all had similar feelings about the book.  I did find it easier to finish reading after the meeting, perhaps because I gave up on finding a point and just made my way through!


Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Book Club, books, L, reviews


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2 responses to “Review: A Regular Guy by Mona Simpson (with book club notes)

  1. Florinda

    November 10, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    I read this one years ago. I like the author, but this is probably my least favorite of her books. And I had no idea she was Steve Jobs’ sister till after he died, so I never made that connection when I read the novel.


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