HAPPINESS by Ann Harleman


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 Mixed praise for the 1993 John Simmons Short Fiction Award winner from Iowa. The dozen stories collected here are carefully constructed but, with a few exceptions, tend to be disappointingly insipid in content. Many treat the interesting theme of partial orphanhood. In ``Eve and Adam 1963,'' a 14-year-old girl is banished to her elderly aunt's house in provincial Pittsburgh so that her parents, fighting, can have sex; she makes fuzzy stabs at doing the same with a crippled cousin. In ``Happiness,'' an uptight, unhappy college teacher named Thurston is appalled, and later appeased, when his half-brother, a red-faced salesman who--like Thurston--was abandoned by their much-traveled mother, shows up and preaches love. In ``It Was Humdrum,'' another abandoning mother, hunted down by her lumpish grown son, now married to lively Maude, disturbs Maude with an unwelcome jolt of identification when she admits she left home because family life was ``humdrum.'' In ``Nothing,'' a wife named Faith begins an affair with a painting instructor that will carry her away from her statistician husband. Perhaps the richest story is ``In Damascus,'' in which an aging beauty sits with her handsome daughters and small granddaughter in a small but elegant Detroit park and begins to tell of a passionate extramarital affair she had long ago, while the family was on diplomatic assignment in Syria--but just in time she realizes the that daughters are too conventional and self-absorbed to understand. Only the five-year-old granddaughter is alive enough to imagine love. Each story turns on a metaphor that almost flowers but often doesn't.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1994
ISBN: 0-87745-440-X
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1993