Sam Sattin's new novel, League of Somebodies, doesn't really get started until a father, Fearghas, explains to his teenage son, Lenard, that he's destined for greatness:
"The truth is," Fearghas said. "I've been preparing you for a non-stop life. One full of danger and triumph... I've been altering your once-stupid future... I'm making you into the next Gud-Damned Superman, for the sake of all sakes."
Lenard's response is delightfully bland:
"But, why would I want to be the next Superman?" Lenard asked. "I'm failing all my classes. I'm terrible at sports. I don't even read comics. I guess I like Superman, but don't know much about him save for the fact that he can fly."
The conversation, couched though it is in Sattin's stilted, hyperstylized language, lays plain the ambition and the theme behind Somebodies: It's about the relationship between a father and a son, and the way that relationship affects fathers of a next generation of sons. The last book I encountered that was this obsessed with what it means to be a man was Michael Chabon's collection Manhood for Amateurs. (It's probably not an accident that Somebodies reads like it could have been written by Chabon at the beginning of his career, back when his mellifluous moments were just as beautiful but less consistent, and when his adoration of popular culture was still cowed by his desire to be considered a Serious Literary Genius.) The characters are even obsessed with an ancient Bible of Manliness called The Manaton, a guidebook full of ridiculous advice on manhood and heroism that begins: "I, am Man. Man. Morphus. Manicus. Phallus. Testes. Prostate. MAN. I am Man."