Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny


I love short stories. I read them and I write them, but I'll freely admit that short story collections are not most readers' first choice.  It's not easy to tell a complete story, to make the world of your characters seem full-blooded, in just a few pages, but when a short story is good, it tends to stick with me longer than some full-length mediocre novels. 

I sought out Katherine Heiny's Single, Carefree, Mellow at a library several towns away because of a story of hers I read years ago in an old New Yorker magazine. The story, "How to Give the Wrong Impression," included in this collection, is told in the second person and focuses on the relationship between two roommates, Gwen and Boris.  I fell in love with the end of the story when Boris finds Gwen cleaning the bathroom late at night while she's wearing an old pair of his boxer shorts.  The language is true and tender, and it is not only something I want to read over and over but it's a perfect example of the type of writing I strive to create.

Single, Carefree, Mellow did not disappoint. Every story was interesting and entertaining in a wonderful way. I flew through the book, then went back and re-read a few favorites. There are three really great stories that feature a woman named Maya, each at a different point in her life. There are nosy neighbors and precocious children and older husbands and loyal best friends. And there's a ton of infidelity. In fact, almost every story features adultery in some way or another. I usually hate when cheating is used as a major plot point but Heiny's characters are flawed and very aware of their mistakes. Like in the real world, no one is perfect and there's nothing wrong with that.

This was one of the best short story collections that I've read in the last few years.  Heiny is able to find humor in even the most ordinary situations, making Single, Carefree, Mellow a real joy to read. Heiny has a novel in the works and I'll definitely be keeping that on my radar for sure.

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