single, carefree, mellow

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

Having been a Goodreads member since 2008 has given me the tendency to consider how many stars I'm going to rate a book even while I'm still reading it. For Single, Carefree, Mellow, I spent the majority of the time convinced I would give the book five stars.

But then I finished it and started thinking about my review and imagined dropping it down to four stars, almost exclusively because of all the affairs. But I won't - I'm going to keep it at five stars, despite all the affairs and here are the two reasons why:

1. I see readers on Goodreads all the time getting all huffy about the God-awful immoral affairs in the books they read and why would they ever condone such behavior in the books they read??  So, first off, the last thing I want to do is be perceived as one of of these readers because I am not. I don't take any moral offense to the characters in my books having affairs. I'm not saying that I don't have any moral offense to people having affairs (although who knows - if you're in some sort horrific relationship and that's your escape - who am I to judge? I'm not because that's your personal business, not mine), but rather that I don't take moral offense at fictional characters in a fictional novel having affairs. Sheesh. Some people need to remember that they are reading fiction. I'm quite convinced that a real life person who wouldn't otherwise have cause or motivation to run out and have an affair is going to read about a fictional character having an affair and drop that book and run out to find a stranger to have sex with.  Rather, I thought about dropping the stars because I just became sort of fatigued over all the affairs, and thought that maybe some of these women could've had better things to do or more facets to their characters than to have an affair. But because I'm more fatigued about other readers expressing their moral outrage about all these fictional(!) characters having affairs, I'm going to stand on principle alone at five full stars. 

2. When I was approved by Knopf Doubleday to read this debut collection of short stories in advance, I was somehow under the impression that it was primarily about single women making their way in the world (must've been because of the title...) and so all the affairs felt like a bit of a breach of contract. But returning to the synopsis, I see my assumption was wrong because there are all sorts of obvious and even inferred suggestions of what the reader is getting themselves into here.

And really, ultimately, it's a minor quibble (despite all my going on up there). Because, otherwise, oh my goodness, this is an awesome collection. 

Primarily because Heiny is so damn incredible at relating emotions in an incisive and insightful way so that the reader know that's she's been there. And the reader knows this because the reader has been there, and only someone else who has been there could possible understand what it feels like. She writes about reasons for attractions to other people than your lover (whether you act on those attractions or not), reasons for fantasizing about breaking up (again, whether one does or not), what it's like to empathize with another person because you've gone through that rough experience yourself, and how losing a dog can be even more devastating than losing a long-term lover. Although she often skillfully changes the reader's perception and judgment of a character from the beginning of the story to the end (and in the case of Maya, through three stories, returning to this particular character at three different times in her life), sometimes the stories will end with just a sentence or two that are a bit confusing, because they seem contradictory to the personality that was built up through the narrative.

Okay, so here's the thing: With most advanced copies of books, we're not really allowed to quote from the books because the copy might change before publication, and this is often frustrating. This is particularly frustrating with this collection because I want so badly to share the funny, wise, fantastic writing here. I highlighted so many section that even if I could relate them all here, I'd be hard pressed to edit them down to the top picks. I am going to share one bit, with the caveat that this is an advanced copy, so it could change by publication but it's so heartbreakingly similar to how I felt when my little dog of sixteen and a half years passed away that I cried for several minutes after finishing the story (and I rarely cry when reading):

"She was thinking that someday, possibly very soon, she would be a single, carefree, mellow, dogless person, able to date full professors and vets and whomever else she wanted. She wished this thought made her happy. She wished she could feel anything other than the purest, most leaden, darkest gray kind of sorrow."