Katherine Heiny | Single, Carefree, Mellow (Vintage)

Katherine Heiny writes like I write. Had I continued writing fiction. And kept growing my craft. And been a better writer.

book_Katherine-HeinyNow available in paperback, Single, Carefree, Mellow is a collection of 11 stories brilliantly wordcrafted. The characters are richly drawn, not entirely likeable but always interesting. The collection is filled with women wanting more, by way of having affairs outside their marriages or relationships. (I do hate the word adultery.) You find yourself almost appreciating these actions—and then disliking yourself just a bit for thinking this way. Heiny justifies one character’s actions like this:

“The worst thing about the affair, Nina thought, was that it made her so impatient with the children. She had not thought that would be the worst part. She thought the guilt would be the worst thing, or the stress of constant deception, or falling out of love with her husband, or some awful day of reckoning, but so far none of these things had happened. Only the impatience.”

“The Dive Bar” introduces us to Sasha, a single woman involved with Carson, an older married man. Carson leaves his wife, Sasha moves in, but his jealousy about her outside interests comes into play. In “How to Give a Wrong Impression,” an unnamed “you” slowly realizes her roommate might be more than she thought. The titular tale introduces us to Maya, recently engaged and taking a look at her choice of partners. Later, in “Dark Matter,” she begins an affair with her boss, remarking on the similarities between her two lovers’ “come facts”: random information men proffer immediately following sex. We return to Maya one more time, in “Grendel’s Mother,” when she is married and expecting a child.

In “Blue Heron Bridge,” married mother of two Nina embraces excitement with her running partner and neighbor. It’s “your” son’s birthday in “That Thing You Do,” complete with Manny the Magician. “Cranberry Relish” explores an affair ended by the other party, and the resultant feelings of this act. The fresh “Thoughts of a Bridesmaid” presents a bridesmaid’s experiences, in first person, as her best friend’s wedding nears. In “The Rhett Butlers,” a 17-year-old begins an affair with her 40-year-old teacher. Although 36-year-old mother of two Sadie is married to 50-year-old Roderick, she carries on an affair with Marcus, who, in “Andorra,” calls before and after his own marriage counseling.

Nearly all of the women’s stories are told in third person, save three—“How to Give the Wrong Impression,” “That Dance You Do,” and “The Rhett Butlers”—which are in second person. I found this both ballsy and confident…and I loved it. Second person was always one of my favorite voices. It’s risky, especially three times in a single collection, but it’s also the most engaging of the perspectives, as it pulls the reader into the action. Well done, Ms. Heiny; you’re after my own heart.

The stories end without absolute resolution, which, at first irritating, soon grew welcome, as my imagination was left to fill in the blanks. Although it would be fair to criticize Heiny for essentially presenting similar characters in similar situations—they’re almost universally involved in illicit affairs—truly, there’s not a bad ballad in the bunch. I found myself looking forward to bedtime each night, as it meant reading more of this delectable collection. I’m looking forward to reading more of Heiny’s work. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 466 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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