THE HALF-LIFE OF HAPPINESS by John Casey

THE HALF-LIFE OF HAPPINESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A lovingly detailed excavation of a failed marriage--and of several damaged lives. It's becoming clear that Casey (the NBAwinning Spartina, 1989, etc.) is at heart a domestic novelist, fascinated by the waxing and waning of American marriages and careers. His latest, set largely in and around Charlottesville, from the late '70s to the present, traces the decline of Mike and Joss's partnership. He's a lawyer, Joss is an artist, and their lives, at first, seem relatively serene. Mike is the more sanguine of the two, believing that ``marriage had an independent soul. . . . that most problems could be solved by waiting, that there was a natural stabilizing grace which would sooner or later reach them.'' It's possibly because of this belief that he's slow to understand Joss's restlessness, or anticipate what will happen when she strikes up an increasingly intimate friendship with a friend's fiancÇe. When Joss finally leaves Mike for a woman, it's not only their marriage that unravels: Their comfortable circle of friends, a bright, liberal, accomplished group of strivers, is shredded by the resulting fallout. Matters become worse when Mike agrees to run for a congressional seat, in an attempt to reassert his competence and talent, his mastery of the world. The campaign soon goes humiliatingly awry. Watching all of this with increasing exasperation and disbelief are Joss and Mike's two unsparingly perceptive daughters, Edith and Nora. Casey's very precise prose, and his mastery of the time and place, keep the plot percolating. And few write so believably about truly bright people, or about the dense particulars of family life. But the narrative, while never dull, often seems too luxuriantly detailed, too filled with minor incidents and fleeting conversations. Casey is far too wise to attempt to turn one marriage into a metaphor for American ills, but without some overarching theme the work seems somewhat exhausting, and obsessively focused. Still, it's undoubtedly a moving work, and often in its portrait of intelligent people haplessly adrift, a convincing one. (First printing of 50,000)

Pub Date: March 25th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-40978-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998




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