Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

When Katherine Heiny's short story collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow, came in on hold for me at the library, I couldn't remember where I had heard about it. There's a blurb from Lena Dunham right on the front cover that would have made me pick it up in any case: "Gives women's interior lives the gravity they so richly deserve - and makes you laugh along the way."

The women in these stories are sort of hapless, and they share a tendency towards extramarital affairs. They have little self-control. Yet, somehow, they are endearing. Heiny treats her characters with warmth and so I can't help feeling sympathy, no matter how unwise their actions.

Female friendships are important to these women. In "The Dive Bar," Sasha has a (married) lover but her housemate Monique is single.

    "Sasha and Monique show up at the brownstone for the singles volunteer day, along with about thirty other people. The renovation is being run by a short and short-tempered redheaded man named Willie, who seems ready to shout at any of them with the slightest provocation. Sasha can understand why he's so grouchy, though: he has to oversee a bunch of volunteers who are all busy checking one another out instead of doing home repair. She almost feels a little sorry for the needy family who is going to move in, picturing the very low standard to which their new home will be refurbished." 

Heiny's style is fresh and witty. In "Andorra," Sadie is a mother of two young children, and having a long-distance affair with Marcus, which means a lot of phone sex.

   "'Anyway,' Marcus said, his voice deepening, 'What are you wearing?'
    'What are you wearing?' Sadie said later to Rufus when he ran through the kitchen in his underpants, and she said, 'Good... good... ' to Leo when he helped her mix the cake batter, and 'I'm coming,' to Nelda when she said that the UPS man was there, and 'I wish you were here,' to her mother on the phone and 'Oh, fuck me,' when the dog threw up on the carpet. She didn't say 'I want you in my mouth right now,' to anyone, but it occurred to her that she could get through most days with only a limited number of phrases, that it was how you said them and who you were at that moment that mattered."

   "This was how Sadie's life ticked along, not like a finely tuned engine, but like some other thing that ticks: noisy pipes, or a bomb."

Single, Carefree, Mellow is Heiny's entertaining debut. I look forward to more.

Readalikes: Anything by Alice Munro; Bobcat and Other Stories (Rebecca Lee); Sleeping Funny (Miranda Hill); and And Also Sharks (Jessica Westhead).

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