Hello there, Story366! I might as well get right to it: I’m watching the Cubs-Giants game while I write this, so I don’t predict a really long intro, much pontification, or much insight that extends beyond statistical analysis. I’m not sure how I got through the day without getting this done, making myself have to write this during the game, but a part of me was perhaps thinking that it might be fun to live-blog during the game. Sure, I could go on Twitter and get nervous about every pitch, give a play-by-play, but really, with how nervous I feel, this is probably better, giving me something to do with my hands, with my brain keeping me from pacing through the floor.
3-0, Cubs. Oh, fuck yes.
That said, I did manage to read several stories from Becky Adnot-Haynes‘ excellent collection The Year of Perfect Happiness, out from the University of North Texas Press as a winner of one of their Katherine Anne Porter Prizes. I came into this collection with a bit of knowledge of Adnot-Haynes’ work—I got halfway through the story “Thank You for the _______” before realizing that I’d read it before (in Hobart). Otherwise, I was treated to some ultra-special stories. Tonight, I’ll write about the title story.
3-1, Cubs. Hmm.
“The Year of Perfect Happiness” is about this guy named Davis who basically invents Adnot-Haynes’ book title by declaring he’s going to have a year of perfect happiness, a year in which everything goes right for him, a year that he does exactly what he wants at all times. He’s in his thirties, is in a stable but undesirable job, and lives with a woman with whom he’s a better roommate than boyfriend. He also has an idea to make money, a get-rich quick scheme he calls ForageFarm, where he sets up people with home gardening systems so they can grow their own food, because, you know, locally grown stuff is big and what’s more local than growing it in your own house? Anyway, the woman he’s living with, Angie, doesn’t believe it, says he’s not going to do it, which might prod him, might not, and the couple finishes their vegetarian dinner.
Adnot-Haynes then cuts ahead to March (the story started with January, told to us in a heading, and we see these time indicators sprinkled in as we move forward) and Davis is living in Phoenix, thinking about ForageFarm. Eventually, he moves in with a glamorous woman named Amanda and at first, Davis seems happy. Maybe, just maybe, his year of perfect happiness is coming true. But then, as time passes and Davis settles in, it’s like he starts finding problems with Amanda and his life with her on purpose. He decides that Amanda is too competitive, whether it’s in their workouts, in the bedroom, or in life in general. We then jump ahead to the end of the summer and suddenly Davis is living with his parents in Florida and meets a woman named Lynn. He and Lynn start dating, and eventually, Davis more or less moves in with her. Again, Davis seems happy, the couple finding a groove a way to be happy—note, though, that Davis has downgraded his year of perfect happiness to a year of happiness, convincing himself the perfect was unnecessary, that happy is happy. He’s just plain happy with Lynn, and before long, it will be winter and the year will be over.
I won’t reveal any more about the plot of “The Year of Perfect Happiness”—we’re in October already—but instead comment on how great Adnot-Haynes’ characterization is throughout this piece. Let’s put Davis aside for a second and focus on the string of women the author had to create. It’s a fun exercise for a writer, to create all these characters, all of whom have their own traits, all their own personalities, but still must believably like Davis, put up with his fickle behavior and general lack of direction (and eventually, lack of commitment). And then there’s Davis, interesting enough to come up with this scheme, this desire to be happy for a year, to have the guts to carry through on his promise and move himself around the U.S. After that, though, he’s more complex, always bringing up ForageFarms, but literally doing nothing to make it happen—he kills a box of herbs on Lynn’s windowsill. He also doesn’t work—his parents are wealthy and do things like send him ten thousand dollar checks on his birthday—but most of all, he can’t seem to recognize a good thing when he has it. Angie seems super cool. Amanda is flat-out gorgeous. Lynn seems like the perfect woman. Yet, Davis can’t be happy with any of them. Maybe that’s the point of “The Year of Perfect Happiness,” that for Davis, there’s no such thing. He kind of reminds me of the protagonist of “Cathedral,” a lazy, judgmental ne’er-do-well, only slightly more motivated and with better resources.
3-2, Cubs. Hmmph.
I liked all the stories I read in The Year of Perfect Happiness quite a bit, a mix of shorts and a few longer stories. I enjoy the style here, but most of all the attitude, the moxie that all of these characters pose, making for some interesting choices. I highly recommend you read Becky Adnot-Haynes’ work, as she’s a super-legit talent. I hope to read more from her. I have a feeling I will.
3-2, Cubs. Stay tuned!