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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: 0.87 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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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:

4The stuff of chick-lit at its best.  Jul 03, 2010
By Schmadrian
For me, when writing is great, it illuminates the human condition. Yes, it can change us, yes it can transport us, yes it can get us to consider what we may have been ignoring or denying.

But first and foremost, beyond all of the above, beyond its entertainment value (though sometimes hand-in-hand with it), great writing illuminates...then leaves it to the reader to make of that illumination what they will. (The unspoken notion of the writer-reader collaboration in full-effect.)

'Happy Now?' illuminates wonderfully. Wonderfully, effectively, with vim and vigor, with wryness, with a certain picante style that's endemic to chick-lit, with a great writer's ability to take you by the hand and tell you a story in a way that you're caught up in it (and I'm not referring to the 'things that happen' here, I'm talking about the writer's 'oomph') so much that the the pleasures of being told a story in this way, the stuff of the story itself and the illumination it all provides is exceedingly enjoyable.

Ms Shonk accomplishes all this with her novel about a woman who is left behind when her husband takes his life on Valentine's Day.

She also accomplishes something quite admirable: she gets inside the mind of a depressive, someone who commits suicide, and presents their reality not only convincingly, but authentically. Additionally, the insight provided by how other characters respond was brilliant, illustrating just how little we understand about someone battling depression, how the suicidal mind works, and how applying the expectations of a 'rational' person's behaviour is the saddest variety of lunacy imaginable. So kudos for her on these counts, as well.

Finally, I want to applaud the author for maintaining her approach throughout the novel. One of simplicity, one of a pared-down vista...seeing things through a pin-hole, if you will. This is Claire's story, nobody else's, not the husband who makes such a violent exit, not the two fractured families she is left with, not even the therapists involved, nor the orphaned cat, Fang. Ms Shonk maintained her focus, her scope, hardly ever veering from her very specific path, and thereby creating an enormously more impactful story for us to read, rather than the one that would have resulted had she gotten off-track.

Don't be fooled by the tone of 'Happy Now?', which is chock-full of 'wry' and 'gently acerbic' and 'glib'. There's an enormous amount of illumination of the human condition going on. I consider myself fortunate to have been witness to it, to have come across this novel. I look forward to her next with no small amount of anticipation.

Personal rating: 9/10

1 of 1 found the following review helpful:

3Short on explanation (3.5*s)  May 20, 2010
By J. Grattan
In this touching story, the likeable, thirty-seven-year-old Claire Kessler, a Chicago resident, is followed in the weeks after her husband Jay's suicide on Valentine's Day exactly two years after they met. Though prone to periodic bouts of depression, Jay's enjoyment of his work as a psychology professor/researcher, his being on track for tenure, and his harmonious marriage make his well-planned death more than a little inexplicable. It is little surprising that Claire basically shuts down for weeks with the good fortune of having very attentive parents and a caring sister Nomie.

Much like the unfulfilled promise that Jay's chaptered suicide binder/note represented for revealing the depths of his mindset and reasons for taking such drastic action, the book seems unwilling to go much beyond the expected reactions of grief and confusion. The author merely hints at and does not explore in any depth Jay's connection to his family, especially sister Veronica, his therapist, a woman with whom he had some sort of special relationship, and his colleagues and female graduate assistants. Claire, before meeting Jay, had created an independent life as a capable artist, both in crafts and the arts, and as a successful real estate property stager. At some point, the haplessness and fearfulness of Claire seems overplayed, such as her intimidation by her cat's vet, a visit to a psychologist, and a medical procedure.

The book is interesting as Jay's and Claire's history is revealed, and Claire is a fairly sympathetic character. Yet it seems that the author missed on an opportunity to dig deeper into the entire scenario of suicide. In fact, it seemed at first she was headed that way, but chose ultimately to leave it as only a baffling occurrence.

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