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DOUBLE HAPPINESS by Mary-Beth Hughes



by Mary-Beth Hughes

Pub Date: June 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8021-7074-3
Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Everything about this slender collection of 11 stories from Hughes (Wavemaker II, 2001) rings true except for its ironic title.

Two stories set the pattern for the others. In “Guidance,” an amusingly nitwit leg model named Fawn, spirited off to Jakarta by her much older bridegroom, offers fatuous observations about Indonesia’s deeply polarized economic climate as she gradually reveals what she’s scarcely noticed herself: The have-nots have abducted her as a hostage. In “Rome,” Olivia, a sensitive daughter necessarily kept blind to the realities of her parents’ uneasy marriage, gets a glimmer of their secrets. The other stories feature adults who have to work harder to ignore the harsh facts of life but mostly manage to do so by concentrating obsessively on minutely rendered details. The mother in the lapidary “May Day” thinks about the waves off the marina, the spring flowers—anything but the impending arrival of her estranged daughter Melody. The dutiful dancer in “Pelican Song” does her best to help her mother escape the new husband whose abuse her mother is determined to overlook. The hero of “Roundup” focuses on the breakup of his architectural firm but ignores the more seismic shifts in his family. The title character in “The Widow of Combarelles,” juggling problems great and small, only gradually realizes how much deeper her friend Coren’s pain is than her own. In “Blue Grass,” a young woman struggles to come to terms with her sister’s death from cancer through a complex dance of memory and denial. In “Horse,” a foundering Atlantic City honeymoon is both mirrored and salvaged by the couple’s preoccupation with the famous Diving Horse’s refusal to dive. “The Aces,” the most conventional of the bunch, uses a second honeymoon to Rome to motivate a series of flashbacks showing the marriage declining because the partners just don’t get it.

Only the title story, an anti-elegy for a World Trade Center victim, demonstrates explicitly how apt Hughes’s title is, for the mourners’ happiness is so rare and fleeting that they’re doubly happy to feel happy.