Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: Single, Carefree, Mellow

From Goodreads:
Single, Carefree, Mellow is that rare and wonderful thing: a debut that is superbly accomplished, endlessly entertaining, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Maya is in love with both her boyfriend and her boss. Sadie’s lover calls her as he drives to meet his wife at marriage counseling. Gwen pines for her roommate, a man who will hold her hand but then tells her that her palm is sweaty. And Sasha agrees to have a drink with her married lover’s wife and then immediately regrets it. These are the women of Single, Carefree, Mellow, and in these eleven sublime stories they are grappling with unwelcome houseguests, disastrous birthday parties, needy but loyal friends, and all manner of love, secrets, and betrayal. 

In “Cranberry Relish” Josie’s ex—a man she met on Facebook—has a new girlfriend he found on Twitter. In “Blue Heron Bridge” Nina is more worried that the Presbyterian minister living in her garage will hear her kids swearing than about his finding out that she’s sleeping with her running partner. And in “The Rhett Butlers” a teenager loses her virginity to her history teacher and then outgrows him. 

In snappy, glittering prose that is both utterly hilarious and achingly poignant, Katherine Heiny chronicles the ways in which we are unfaithful to each other, both willfully and unwittingly. Maya, who appears in the title story and again in various states of love, forms the spine of this linked collection, and shows us through her moments of pleasure, loss, deceit, and kindness just how fickle the human heart can be.
Very well done.  I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of writing in these stories, although I think the title may be a bit misleading.  The characters in the story are largely very specifically NOT single - they're almost all involved in some sort of infidelity.  The sheer amount of infidelity and the casual treatment of it overshadowed my enjoyment of the quality of the writing to some degree, but I'll address that below in Entertainment Value.  As for the writing, I did find it impressive and pleasant to read.  I particularly appreciated the recurring character of Maya and the changes she goes through over the course of the book.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, I was not a fan of the portrayal of infidelity in many of the stories.  We see the acts of unfaithfulness from the point of view of the one who is doing the cheating, never from the point of view of a person devastated by unfaithfulness.  And honestly, it's just a topic that almost never sits right with me.  I just prefer not to read about it and probably would have chosen something else if I had known how much infidelity was so central to so many of the stories.  That said, I do think there was an honesty to the portraying of cheating and the ways it can become boring, dull, or prove to be disillusioning.

There's not a whole lot to like about many of the characters who populate these stories.  They cheat, they manipulate, they put their own happiness above everything and everyone else.  That said, likability is not a requirement for me.  I can actually really appreciated the nuances that can be found in unlikable characters and I'm happy to report that that is certainly the case here.  The characters do have depths and their circumstances reveal a great deal about human nature and relationships.  I'm glad I read it, despite the fact that I probably wouldn't have chosen it based on the amount of cheating that takes place.  It's short and easy to read and will appeal to readers who enjoy contemporary, realistic short stories in the same vein as Sex in the City, but with a bit more depth.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review!

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