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Thoughts on “Unexpectedly, Milo” by Matthew Dicks

I checked Unexpectedly, Milo by Matthew Dicks out of the library because of how much I loved Dicks’s first novel, Something Missing, which I read during the Readathon back in October.

About the Book:

Unexpectedly, Milo by Matthew Dicks (cover)Milo Slade, a home aide in his mid-30s, has just moved into his own apartment after his wife of three years, Christine, asked for a separation. Milo is bewildered as to where his marriage went wrong and dutifully attends couples therapy sessions, though Christine seems angrier every time their paths cross.

Milo also has other issues to deal with. Ever since he was a kid, he’s experienced intense and unavoidable needs to perform specific, odd activities: releasing the pressure seals on jars of Smuckers grape jelly, bowling a strike, crushing a Weeble in a door. In fact, when we first meet Milo, he is desperately trying to rid himself of the word conflagration, which he knows will keep pounding away in his brain until someone besides himself utters the word without knowing of Milo’s need. Milo has spent his entire marriage hiding these demands from Christine; in all his life he has never shared them with a single soul.

Then Milo discovers a video camera and a bag of tapes in a nearby park. Intending to return the items to their rightful owner, Milo begins to watch the tapes, which turn out to be a woman’s video diary. As he searches for clues about the owner’s identity, Milo ends up on an adventure he could never have anticipated.

My Thoughts:

I’ll start by saying that I didn’t like Unexpectedly, Milo as much as Something Missing. Both novels are quirky and endearing, but I loved Martin (Something Missing) more than Milo. Milo’s situation was certainly odd, but Martin’s was so original and entertaining that I can’t help but like it better. I was a little surprised, as I tend to assume that second novels are usually an improvement over first novels.

However. Unexpectedly, Milo was absolutely enjoyable. Three interwoven story lines kept things interesting: the trouble with Christine and attempts to resolve it; the need to satisfy each strange demand and the consequences of ignoring them; and, of course, the video diary. On top of all that, there are a few great scenes with Milo’s elderly clients sprinkled throughout. My favorite was Edith, who likes to have Milo rake her living room rug to make it look nice. She’s in a book club, and Milo reads the book each month so that Edith can practice her discussion points with him. One of the participants of the book group keeps choosing dense novels: Finnegan’s Wake, To the Lighthouse, The House of Mirth. I was entertained when both Edith and Milo expressed dislike for Blindness by Jose Saramago, which I immediately put on my TBR list after falling in love with Death with Interruptions.

I also had fun seeing where Milo’s adventures took him. Even if his exterior journey was a touch far-fetched, his inner journey was real and satisfying. He learns and grows a lot, so that the novel has a sort of positive upswing to it, much like Something Missing did. I’m being intentionally vague so as not to reveal anything that should not be revealed! Suffice to say, neither Something Missing nor Unexpectedly, Milo were downers.

What I thought was a writing style particular to Martin’s thought processes in Something Missing turned out to apparently be Dicks’s usual style, as the repetition and spelling out of everything were present in Milo’s tale as well. In Something Missing, this style fit perfectly with Martin’s character and seemed to be an extension of him; in Unexpectedly, Milo, it got a tad repetitive now and then. For instance, this paragraph:

“The use of the word decided made his explanation not entirely true, Milo knew, since he decided nothing when it came to his demands. Some unseen force always determined his next course of action, and he simply answered it as best he could. Still, this answer was closer to honesty than even he had expected.” (p. 209)

Out of context it seems ok, but after reading 200 pages about the nature of Milo’s demands, the middle sentence really isn’t necessary; the reader already knows about the unseen force, which Milo, in fact, even nicknamed earlier on. I found myself getting a little frustrated with repetition like that now and then, as the story occasionally seemed to become buried in it. Perhaps it was meant to reflect Milo the way it reflected Martin in Something Missing, but it didn’t work as well for me in Unexpectedly, Milo.

Overall, my quibbles with Unexpectedly, Milo were minor. If you’re new to Dicks’s novels, I cannot recommend Something Missing highly enough and would suggest you start there. If you’ve read Something Missing, though, and are considering Unexpectedly, Milo, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Your Turn!

Are there any authors you’ve read whose first novels you’ve preferred to their later work(s)? Or do you tend to prefer first novels to later ones?

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  • http://www.thebooknerdclub.blogspot.com mummazappa

    Sounds like it might be a case of the way the story is told getting in the way of the story. That kind of thing really annoys me and makes me want to take a red pen to the book and get editing. I was really disappointed with Audrey Niffeneger’s Her Fearful Symmetry after loving The Time Traveller’s Wife, but not enough to put me off reading more of her work in future.

    • Erin

      Just a touch, yes. Usually it drives me nuts, but in Unexpectedly, Milo, it wasn’t bad enough to bug me, except every once in a while. I absolutely agree re: Her Fearful Symmetry!! I will read Niffenegger’s future work, but I much preferred Time Traveler’s Wife.

  • http://www.reviewsbylola.wordpress.com Stephanie

    Milo’s nueroses may be too much for me–I can just picture myself getting irritated with him!

    • Erin

      Yeah…I didn’t understand him as well as I understood Martin in Something Missing. They’re both OCD, I gathered, but Martin more “typically” so than Milo.

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I read a review of Something Missing a few months ago and went right out and purchased the book. I haven’t yet read it, but from your glowing comments about it, I am thinking I need to do it soon! This book also sounds good, and the fact that Milo is dealing with compulsive urges (the Weebles thing really got me) makes this book sound terribly interesting to me. I am adding this one to my list as well, and thanks so much for the excellent review!

    • Erin

      Ooh! Read it! I really loved Something Missing. Definitely start there, then read Milo. Milo is also good, but Martin is better! I hope you love both of them!

  • http://www.stephandtonyinvestigate.com Steph

    Despite writing about this authors books on my blog, I thought I was the only person who had actually read him! So glad to hear you really enjoyed him too! I agree that Something Missing is more endearing than this one, but I still enjoyed it a good deal and it kept me guessing. Dicks is such a talented author and I just can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

    • Erin

      I thought the same thing! I found out about Dicks because he did a signing at the bookstore where I used to work. I’ve never heard anyone else mention him! He’s definitely good at creating inventive stories. I wasn’t bored by either novel…I just liked Martin better :-) But I will absolutely be picking up whatever he writes next!

  • http://www.theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com The Literary Omnivore

    I go the other way around–I like later novels better. I tell people to start with Neil Gaiman chronologically, because Neverwhere, while good, can’t hold its own against American Gods.

    I love getting seeing characters talk about books; I get some of my recommendations that way!

    • Erin

      I usually prefer later novels! I was surprised that the opposite happened this time. I haven’t gotten to American Gods yet; I want to listen to it, but it’s just so darn long! I really liked Neverwhere, so now I’m looking forward to American Gods.

      I love when characters discuss books as well! I’m not holding it against Milo that he didn’t like Saramago, but I definitely thought it was funny.

  • http://matthewdicks.com Matthew Dicks

    Hello all,

    Hope you don’t mind me dropping in, and I hope it doesn’t limit your conversation in any way. My Google Alert pointed me to Erin’s review and your subsequent discussion, and I thank you all for taking the time to read and/or discuss my work.

    And Erin, thanks for the very insightful review. I accept both your praise and criticism with an open heart and know that I am sadly not perfect. In fact, the areas of my writing that I am striving to improve upon the most are the ones you have focused upon in your review. But I’m also pleased to hear you liked UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO. SOMETHING MISSING will also mean a great deal to me, as it was the book that broke me into the publishing business, but MILO is a book that has meant a great deal to me as well and speaks to issues that have always been a big part of my life.

    My next book should be out in late 2011, and if you’re interested, Erin, I’d be happy to send you a review copy when they become available.

    Oh, and as for Saramago, I have a love/hate relationship with his work, but like Milo, I found BLINDNESS depressing beyond measure! I recently read DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS for my book club and liked it, and I’ve liked other books of his, but his refusal to paragraph with any frequency and his lack of chapters makes his work unnecessarily dense. Never an easy read.

    Thanks again, all. Very interesting to hear what you’ve thought of my books thus far!

    Warmly,
    Matt


    Matthew Dicks
    http://matthewdicks.com
    Read about my writing career and life at http://matthewdicks.typepad.com
    Become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/matthewjdicks
    Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MatthewDicks

    • Erin

      Thank you for stopping by! I always love hearing from authors, and I think most others feel the same. It’s a perspective often missing in discussions about books and one that is always unique. I never expect people to be perfect, and I certainly cannot think of an author whose novels I love equally!

      I have not read Blindness yet, but I’m really looking forward to it! I’m not usually a fan of that really dense style, especially when it disregards conventions like paragraph breaks and quotation marks, but for some reason I loved Death with Interruptions. I’m happy to hear your relationship with Saramago is love/hate and not hate/hate! Thanks for weighing in on that. I suspected there might be some sort of personal preference underlying Milo’s!

  • http://lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    Now I want to crush a Weeble … if only I had one! (Do they even make them anymore I wonder? I’ll have to look).

    Anyway, thanks for alerting me to an author I’ve never heard of but it sounds like I’d like him. I think I’d start with his first book though based on your review.

    • Erin

      I do think you’d like these books! I hope you love them, and I look forward to hearing what you think :-)

  • http://matthewdicks.com Matthew Dicks

    Yes, you can still find Weebles.

    Happy crushing!

    • Erin

      I had no idea. Thanks for jumping in! (Though every time Weebles are mentioned the song pops back into my head…)

  • http://bonjourcass.com Cass

    This book and the other Dicks book you mentioned sound like ones I’d really enjoy. I’ll have to read them soon!

    • Erin

      I hope you love them both! They’re definitely fun and unique. I can’t wait to see what the next one will be about.