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Happy Now?: A Novel
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Happy Now?: A Novel

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HOW FAR WILL WE GO TO DENY  THE DARKER SIDE OF OUR RELATIONSHIPS? HOW MUCH WILL WE RISK TO BE HAPPY?

After many lonely years and alarming Internet dates, Claire Kessler, an artist and self-proclaimed homebody, believed she had found the perfect man. Jay was earnest, romantic, and gainfully employed, and within a year they were married.

Less than two years later, Jay had killed himself.

On Valentine’s Day.

Happy Now? follows Claire’s chaotic and often tragicomic journey through the weeks that follow her husband’s suicide. Nomie, Claire’s pregnant younger sister, welcomes Claire into her guesthouse and abandons her own husband in solidarity. Claire’s father turns into a concerned stalker, trailing her every movement. Encounters with well-meaning therapists go horribly awry, and Jay’s abandoned cat goes on a hunger strike. All the while, Jay’s suicide note lurks on the coffee table, waiting for Claire to gather the courage to read it. As she struggles to confront the truth about her marriage, Claire also struggles to negotiate life as a young widow—the well-intentioned remarks, the sympathy bouquets, and the terrifying prospect of dating (and loving) again.

With wit and compassion, Katherine Shonk explores both the possibilities and the limitations of human relationships. Happy Now? is an uncommonly honest portrait of love, loss, and letting go.

Product Details:
Author: Katherine Shonk
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: April 13, 2010
Language: English
ISBN: 0374281432
Product Length: 8.5 inches
Product Width: 5.75 inches
Product Height: 1.0 inches
Product Weight: 0.88 pounds
Package Length: 8.3 inches
Package Width: 5.5 inches
Package Height: 1.1 inches
Package Weight: 0.85 pounds
Average Customer Rating: based on 16 reviews
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Customer Reviews:
Average Customer Review:4.0 ( 16 customer reviews )
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8 of 9 found the following review helpful:

5Remarkable novel of suicide and survival  May 03, 2010
By Mary "Enthusiastic reader"
Because of her remarkable collection of short stories,The Red Passport, I have been on the lookout for new work by Katherine Shonk. Her just-released first novel, Happy Now? lives up to my highest expectations. I am in awe of her writing style, a wry, observant combination of heartbreakingly sad and laugh out loud funny prose. The story trajectory is remarkable also. We know by page 7 that the central event of the story, a young husband's suicide, has occurred. The rest is looking back at Claire and Jay's love story, and going forward with the young widow who, while feeling the tragedy of her situation, can also step back and view it as "embarrassing." Her family (divorced mother and father and her young sister Nomie) is not the most communicative but they are there for each other in odd, clumsy and touching ways. Her mother makes practical things happen: appointments, arrangements, funeral wardrobe. Pregnant Nomie comforts her with the sheer force of her desire that Claire be happy again. But to me the most touching of her comforters is her loving, worried father - a man of few words - who waits in his rusting red station wagon outside her temporary home all day, day after day, dropping off doughnuts and making a motorcade of the simplest outings. Her mother says, "Why is your father out there?" . . . "I don't know" is Claire's answer. But of course she does know. From early morning when he brings her coffee, until her light goes out at night, he's waiting to be sure that he doesn't miss that one moment when his daughter might need him. I loved this book.

7 of 8 found the following review helpful:

5surprisingly funny, but still poignant  May 05, 2010
By Rosa
This book has the sort of premise that makes a good movie pitch: young man commits suicide on valentine's day, while wife is left to pick up the pieces. However, it's not the Hollywood version of the story you might expect. The characters don't always react the ways people are supposed to, which makes them human and endearing, while sometimes also frustrating and baffling. Claire, the wife, is a figure of sympathy, of course, but you also realize through the course of the book that she didn't know her husband very well and might not ever really understand his depression and suicide. Her family responds with a lot of nurturing, even to the point of friendly stalking, in the case of her silent, sweet father. Her pregnant sister Nomie even sleeps in the bed with her every night. Other people are not particularly sensitive, including the cat-centric veterinarian who suggests that Claire has not been paying enough attention to the grief-stricken cat of the deceased. The most painful part of the book, for me, was the meeting that Claire has with Jay's therapist; it's a very uncomfortable scene. Claire's eventual emergence out of the questioning stage is a relief, even though she hasn't made it out of the woods entirely by the end of the book. The book is a compelling meditation on the potential for distance in marriage, and the dearth of coping mechanisms for grief that American culture offers. Sometimes it's pretty sad, and sometimes it's wickedly funny, but in the end, it's the well-drawn characters that make the book an absorbing read.

2 of 2 found the following review helpful:

4Wanted more story  May 17, 2010
By BemisReviewsBooks
I really loved the story overall. The one thing I would have liked is for the characters to have been more fleshed out. I was really looking forward to a scene with Veronica, Claire's sister-in-law, that never materialized. I thought that Shonk set the stage for a later confrontation between these 2 characters and was very disappointed in its absence. Even still, Shonk's writing was full of depth and insights and I did enjoy this book. I just wanted more story.

1 of 1 found the following review helpful:

5A finely observed grief  Sep 08, 2010
By N. B. Kennedy
In the hands of a different kind of writer, this tale of a husband's suicide at a Valentine's Day party could have been melodramatic, over-the-top, snarky or any of a number of approaches that wouldn't do the "incident" (as the young widow calls comes to call it) justice.

Katherine Shonk has written a deeply thoughtful, and at times dryly funny, story of a woman grieving and coming to terms with her husband's shocking decision, born of depression. She imagines all the small daily scenes Claire must face, the awkward interactions with friends and family, her paralyzing ennui and her gradual re-entry into the world.

In the same weekend, I read You Lost Me There by Rosencrans Baldwin, another novel about a spouse's death. It's no contest. Ms. Shonk's book has a ring of authenticity that is utterly lacking in Mr. Baldwin's book. None of his characters seemed like people to me (La Loulou?). Ms. Shonk's characters are believable (well, except maybe the father who keeps silent vigils in his car)-- they have their good moments and their bad moments. They're endearing and they have affection for each other, even when they can't understand or have run out of patience for each other. You feel like you know, or could know, them. I would have liked to go through Claire's therapy sessions with her, just to know that it all turns out okay for her in the end. When you like someone, you just want to be sure!

1 of 1 found the following review helpful:

5A wonderful book  Aug 15, 2010
By D. Chugh
I thought this book was wonderfully written. Witty in all sorts of unexpected moments and authentic about how real people feel, act, and react. I truly cared for each character ... each was human, flawed, and likable. I'm not a literary expert but something about this book reminded me of Ann Patchett's novels, whose work I also really love and admire. Hard to believe this is Shonk's first novel and looking forward to what comes next.

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