Josie thinks that the problem with being a writer is that you miss a lot of your life wondering if the things that happen to you are good enough to use in a story, and most of the time they’re not and you have to make shit up anyway.
Every so often (and by that I mean very rarely) a book enters your life which seems to meet some deeply-subconscious, previously buried-but-intrinsic need; it seems to answer the big questions you’ve been pondering, it consumes your everyday thoughts, it gives you characters to aspire to, you feel that little bit cooler just for having it’s witty presence in your bag. You find yourself wanting to read great chunks aloud to anyone who will listen (in this case, interrupting the fiance as he struggles to read Great Expectations in the small hours), you start to wonder which character you would be if you could choose, you vow to be more like said character, you ask yourself what they would do in your sitation.
Katherine Heiny’s incredible debut short story collection Single, Carefree, Mellow is the book. I first spotted its striking red cover in the Sunday Times Style supplement, in a January ‘cool things to look forward to in 2015’ article and it was love at first sight. This book called to me, it positively purred and I was hooked. Not insignificantly, it was the only book to be featured in piece and I would go as far as saying, if you only read one book this year let this be it. A grandiose statement perhaps considering it is only mid-February, but it is one I’m going to stand by. A book like this doesn’t come along very often – seize it, re-read it, give it to friends – it will not disappoint.
A collection of 11 short stories which offer a snapshot into the lives of a variety of American women – single, married, some mothers, some pregnant. Although their stories are not linked, they each share some common characteristics; these women are certainly not wallflowers. They are smart, funny, articulate, assertive, sexy women; they are not afraid to speak their minds and act on their desires. They love passionately, intensely and they do not deal in guilt, you will not hear them talk of diets, fashion, frivolity. They are brilliantly refreshing and above all, they are fucking cool – they are women you want to be.
Secondly, they are all experiencing some transition or shift in their lives, and most of them are hiding something from those closest to them. Heiny deftly explores the precarious and complicated nature of love and sex, exploring adultery and betrayal in relationships in an original and thought-provoking way. Her characters are multi-faceted, very human and instantly relatable. One of the women, Maya, is the subject of three of the stories (including the eponymous Single, Carefree, Mellow my favourite in the collection), each set at a slightly different stage of her life, so by the end she feels more like a character from a much longer novel (a plea: Heiny if you happen to be reading this, please give her a novel! I need to know MORE!)
The collection has already attracted comparisons to Lorrie Moore, Melissa Bank and Alice Munro but I feel that to compare it almost reduces its power. Certainly she has the hilarious quips and quotable one-liners down to a fine art (but far less self-deprecating cynicism than Lorrie Moore) and yes, these stories are about the mundane day-to-day (but far sexier than anything I’ve ever read by Alice Munro) but that is where the similarities end. This is Lorrie Moore by way of Sex and the City and Girls. Heiny is a startingly fresh new voice and once I can’t wait to hear more from.