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The Narcissism of Small Differences


A hilarious and poignant novel about growing up, buying in, selling out, and the death of irony.

While supplies last, books ordered through the website will have bookplates SIGNED by Michael Zadoorian!

$16.95 $12.71

What people are saying…

The Narcissism of Small Differences is one of [Zadoorian’s] best. He has become an essential chronicler of the life in Detroit at the beginning of our century.”
Stateside, Michigan Public Radio

#1 Bestseller (Fiction/Paperback) at Book Soup!

One of Detour Detroit‘s 25 Notable Detroit and Michigan Books from 2020!

“This comedy features characters who are so real that you’ll be questioning whether you met them in another life.”
Hour Detroit, included in 9 Beach Reads with Michigan Connections

“Like Zadoorian’s earlier novels—The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, The Leisure Seeker and Beautiful Music—this new novel brims with wit, passion and soul.”
The Millions, one of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2020

“If the very idea of irony were to die during the coronavirus, how would one bury it? A new book by Ferndale writer Michael Zadoorian might provide an answer.”
Lansing City Pulse

“A quirky, original novel . . . Zadoorian deftly captures the flavor and eccentricities of life in Detroit.”
Lansing State Journal

The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian is about two people on the cusp of their forties, but it’s also about our life choices, how we compare those choices to others, and why we follow a particular path in life, whether it’s based on convenience or conviction.”
I’ve Read This

“Metro Detroit has been the setting of all four of Zadoorian’s novels so far, and Narcissism . . . continues a career-long exploration of a place the Detroit native says has only become more ‘wondrous’ to him with age.”
SEEN Magazine

“Landing somewhere between a pithy Joyce Carol Oates and Hunter S. Thompson’s insightful revelations on American pop culture zeitgeist, Zadoorian beautifully weaves his native city and its inhabitants into a thoughtful story.”
House of Tabu

“A quite wondrous, thoroughly entertaining and delightfully enthralling journey through a Detroit of 11 years ago that is, without a shadow of a doubt, a must read for any Detroit natives.”
Exclusive Magazine

“It’s not often you see characters in a book who don’t subscribe to the traditional expectations of marriage and parenthood.”
Mom of None

“[Zadoorian’s] message—that as we get older, it’s okay to reimagine our lives and maybe even sell out a little, as long as we stay true to our authentic selves—is earnest. And a side plot that takes Joe through some grand theaters of yesteryear, now dangerously decrepit, provides moments of genuine poignancy.”

“Zadoorian’s comedy of contemporary manners resonates by virtue of its introspective characters and depictions of the small moments in life that, taken together, have great significance. Piquantly titled chapters (‘Out Come the Freaks’) provide additional comic snap. Zadoorian’s subtle, timely story hits the mark.”
Publishers Weekly

“Detroit in 2009 is depicted as a place whose glory days are behind it and whose future is uncertain. Ana and Joe are neither fortune-seeking gentrifiers nor grizzled veterans, and their need to find a specific place where they belong makes for some of this novel’s most affecting moments . . . [This novel’s] empathy and lived-in qualities are both appealing.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] warm, surprisingly playful novel about middle-age crisis . . . Zadoorian’s obvious affection for Detroit, along with his enthusiasm for his characters’ pursuit of meaningful lives, makes this a very enjoyable read.”
Library Journal

“What Zadoorian succeeds with here, as he has consistently done, is create characters who are believably flawed and believably endearing, even charismatic in their own awkward ways—so much so that you enjoy spending time with them on each page.”
Ideas Adrift

“Zadoorian’s comedy of manners gently and lovingly mocks and ridicules a generation that has grown up on irony . . . Zadoorian’s writer’s heart, however, is too true to reduce his characters to caricatures. At their cruelest and most smart-alecky, their creator never loses sight—nor does he allow his reader to lose sight—of their essential humanity and the tender vulnerability lying beneath the shiny surface.”
Books in Northport (Dog Ears Books blog)

“The journey is classic Zadoorian, filled with lots of Detroit-iana, classic asides, and two heroes you can’t help but root for.”
Boswell Book Company, staff pick by Daniel Goldin

“In The Narcissism of Small Differences, Michael Zadoorian writes with smart, skewering accuracy about relationships and midlife, about the costs of irony and complacency, and about how change comes for all of us, whether we’re ready for it or not. Zadoorian’s humor does that rare thing: packs a punch even as it moves us to sympathy and emotional connection. With Detroit as his steady muse and memory palace, Zadoorian is a writer of consequence in full command of his gifts.”
—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin

“For anyone who’s ever asked themselves, ‘Am I weird?’ Michael Zadoorian has the answer: ‘Of course you are. That’s the whole idea.’ While everyone is trying so hard to act normal, The Narcissism of Small Differences revels in its own weirdness.”
—Ben Folds, New York Times best-selling author/singer-songwriter

The Narcissism of Small Differences asks big questions and delivers big answers but not without wit, taste, and style. A snapshot of a modern relationship, all messiness included. There’s nobody better than Michael Zadoorian at unearthing the beauty in ruins, the truth in jest, youth in aging. In a literary landscape where most are hell-bent on outplotting their peers, he has sculpted a thriller from everyday life. For this, it’s my most cherished book of the year.”
—Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box

“Simmering beneath the humor and irony of this story is a poignant quest for meaning and authenticity in a postmodern world that supposedly holds all the answers. Michael Zadoorian is a deft, thoughtful, and intelligent writer who has deep compassion and understanding for the human condition, and his humility and humanity infuse every page. I loved this book.”
—Michael Imperioli, author of The Perfume Burned His Eyes

“Against the backdrop of a crumbling Detroit, Zadoorian’s prose sparkles and shimmers, infusing this love ballad of a novel with humor and light. Zadoorian is a writer who hears music everywhere and in everything, a writer who turns the act of reading into something as lush as a concert, as intimate as a mixtape.”
—Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs

“A masterful storyteller and prose stylist, Michael Zadoorian doesn’t disappoint with The Narcissism of Small Differences, a smart, briskly paced novel set in 2009 Detroit about an aging hipster and his more responsible mate struggling to keep their relationship from veering down the same path as their crumbling, economically wrecked city.”
—Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time

“Michael Zadoorian writes his characters with wit, humor, and compassion—clearly, he loves them, and this warmth comes shining through.”
—Mira T. Lee, author of Everything Here Is Beautiful

“It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that nailed the mind-set of a generation like Michael Zadoorian has in The Narcissism of Small Differences. His study of an ordinary couple navigating a culture where nothing matters, to discover something that really does, is remarkable.”
—Luke Sullivan, author of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This

“‘You shut up and went to work because people were counting on you,’ writes Michael Zadoorian in The Narcissism of Small Differences. This is perhaps the best description ever of the Detroit attitude, exemplified by protagonists Joe and Ana, a couple at the crossroads, utterly compelling as they try to move up—and stay together—in the world’s most blue-collar city. Zadoorian’s glittering prose will often make you laugh, but it’s his gusto and unfailing eye that pull at your heart in this fantastic novel.”
—Scott Lasser, author of Say Nice Things About Detroit

“When you have spent a life living apart from the mainstream, carving out a niche of artful individualism, it’s good to find that you are not alone after all. Michael Zadoorian’s The Narcissism of Small Differences shows you that there are kindred souls in all the cities of the world who struggle with the same failures and successes. It’s like discovering your family.”
—Sven Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki

The Narcissism of Small Differences is at once an intimate portrait of contemporary Detroit, a comedy of manners in modern marriage, and an honest depiction of the difficult choices—professional, creative, economic—many of us make while under the vise grip of late capitalism. The novel proposes that, while stuck in the craw of late empire, the very least we can do is keep an open heart. I laughed and winced equally in recognition. Michael Zadoorian is to Detroit what Stuart Dybek is to Chicago: a seer, even when the seeing hurts.”
—Sally Franson, author of A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out

Critical Praise for Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian:

“Danny Yzemski tunes out a dysfunctional family with Frank Zappa and Iggy Pop, shaking his countercultural fist at The Man in this eight-track flashback of a novel set in 1970s Detroit.”
O, the Oprah Magazine, One of O‘s Top Books of Summer

Beautiful Music is a sweet and endearing coming-of-age tale measured in album tracks.”
Wall Street Journal

“For Danny, cracking the seal on a fresh piece of wax and dissecting cover art and liner notes are acts of nigh religious experience that unveil to him a community of fellow rockers across Detroit . . . It’s in these small moments—a lonely boy experiencing premature nostalgia—that Zadoorian shines.”
Washington Post


*While supplies last, books ordered through the website will have bookplates SIGNED by Michael Zadoorian!

Joe Keen and Ana Urbanek have been a couple for a long time, with all the requisite lulls and temptations, yet they remain unmarried and without children, contrary to their Midwestern values (and parents’ wishes). Now on the cusp of forty, they are both working at jobs that they’re not even sure they believe in anymore, but with significantly varying returns. Ana is successful, Joe is floundering—both in limbo, caught somewhere between mainstream and alternative culture, sincerity and irony, achievement and arrested development.

Set against the backdrop of bottomed-out 2009 Detroit, a once-great American city now in transition, part decaying and part striving to be reborn, The Narcissism of Small Differences  is the story of an aging creative class, doomed to ask the questions: Is it possible to outgrow irony? Does not having children make you one? Is there even such a thing as selling out anymore?

More than a comedy of manners, The Narcissism of Small Differences  is a comedy of compromise: the financial compromises we make to feed ourselves; the moral compromises that justify our questionable actions; the everyday compromises we all make just to survive in the world. Yet it’s also about the consequences of those compromises— and the people we become because of them—in our quest for a life that is our own and no one else’s.

Read Michael Zadoorian’s essay on writing The Narcissism of Small Differences at Literary Hub.

Read “A Year in Reading” guest piece by Michael Zadoorian at The Millions.

Read a guest piece by Michael Zadoorian at NonParents.

Read interviews with Michael Zadoorian at Tiki with Ray; Deborah Kalb Books; and Corp! Magazine.

Listen to interviews with Michael Zadoorian at A Little Too Quiet: The Ferndale Library Podcast; Daily Detroit; Beyond Books at Novi Library; Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation, Childfree GirlsMom of None, You Had Me at Childfree, and Michigan Public Radio’s Stateside

Listen to a Q&A with Michael Zadoorian and other metro Detroit authors on writing during COVID-19 at WDET (Detroit, MI).

Book Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Published: 5/5/20
  • IBSN: 9781617758171
  • e-IBSN: 9781617758256
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617758188


MICHAEL ZADOORIAN is the critically praised author of Beautiful Music, as well as The Leisure Seeker—the basis for the 2018 Sony Pictures Classics film starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. Zadoorian is a recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship in the Literary Arts, the Columbia University Anahid Literary Award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, the GLIBA Great Lakes Great Reads award, and a Michigan Notable Book Award. His other books are Second Hand: A Novel, and the story collection The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit. His work has appeared in the Literary Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, American Short Fiction, Witness, Great Lakes Review, North American Review, Detroit Noir, and the Huffington Post. A lifelong resident of the Detroit area, he lives with his wife in a 1937 bungalow filled with cats and objects that used to be in the houses of other people. His latest novel is The Narcissism of Small Differences.

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