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Happy Now? by Katherine Shonk
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Happy Now?

by Katherine Shonk

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This was a very good read; I would like to read more from this author; I would even be interested in a sequel to this book. I appreciated how the author maintained tension even though the main action occurs before the book starts. What struck me most from this book was the irony of how suicide may seem like the absolute act of control -- except once you're dead, your control is gone. The husband was such a control freak that he had a tabbed notebook of directions for his wife to find after his suicide -- did he ever consider that once he's dead, he's not in control anymore? His suicide notebook will be passed around and read by various members of his family? His wife will move on? By the end of the book, the world has swallowed the hole he left behind and he is just gone: Happy Now? ( )
  read.to.live | Jun 6, 2011 |
No question, Shonk has it as a novelist
Comments
April 18, 2010
BY HEDY WEISS Sun-Times Theater Critic
In her first book, The Red Passport, Chicago writer Katherine Shonk gave us a collection of sharply observed, often bittersweet short stories about Russians (and visiting Americans) who were trying to make some sense of the seismic shifts that were part of post-Communist life in the 1990s.
Now, seven years later, Shonk’s first novel has arrived, and though her story unfolds much closer to home (primarily in Chicago and Evanston), her distinctive voice — the ironic, self-mocking sense of humor, the flair for capturing the ache of imperfect romantic love, the observation of quirky behavioral details, the starchy appraisal of flawed character, the telling sense of family dynamics — is once again on display.
In Happy Now? Shonk spins a tale of love, grief, guilt and suppressed anger as she homes in on Claire Kessler, a thirtysomething artist, builder of dollhouses and part-time “home stager” whose marriage of less than two years comes to a stunningly unexpected end when her husband, Jay Blaisdale, an academic psychologist researching child behavior, jumps to his death from a high-rise balcony.
» Click to enlarge image

LOCAL APPEARANCES
Katherine Shonk will read from and sign copies of Happy Now? at:
* 7:30 p.m. April 21 at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark.
* 6 p.m. April 29 at Barnes & Noble DePaul, 1 E. Jackson.
(Photo by Michael Rastall)

On the surface, such a story might seem like fodder for a Lifetime television network drama or a women’s magazine story. But Shonk (the sort of writer Saul Bellow might have dubbed “a first-class noticer”) makes gold of it — invariably stripping away sentimentality and replacing it with the mix of caustic intelligence and biting wit of someone who feels things deeply but never loses the ability to step back a bit and see the dysfunctional theater of it all.
And when it comes to profoundly private devastation, she can conjure that, too — whether in the form of a saved cell phone message from her husband that she believes recorded his final heartbeats, or the devoted vigil of her adoring and worried father, who watches her every move from his car during the weeks after Jay’s suicide.
Shonk also plays deftly with the timing of her revelations — moving backward and forward to parse out bits of information about the story’s central relationship (its gentle pleasures, its pervasive little aches, its unspoken tensions), as well as the flawed intimacies of many of her other characters, including the memorable cat her husband left behind.
The daughter of parents who divorced almost too civilly when she and her younger sister, Nomie (now married and pregnant), were still in grade school, Claire was something of a contented loner before she met Jay, though she was not beyond signing up with eHarmony. (The hilarious freak-show parade of dating stories here are laugh-out-loud funny: “At a friend’s party a man flirted with her and asked her out, but he rushed through their first date and shook her hand at the end of it, only to show up the next week at her group art show with his mother, who bought a work from someone else.”)
Jay, of course, was different. She gently picked him up while sitting in a cafe and overhearing him ask the manager about a long-defunct record store she knew. He had his first attack of depression before they wed and another profound bout during their honeymoon in Hawaii. He began seeing a therapist. Yet what began to seem predictable but manageable to Claire — they had bought a house and she was even thinking about a baby — was perhaps more than she was able or willing to fully face.
Was Claire oblivious, or detached, or incapable of complete intimacy? Or was Jay simply determined to end things in the most radical, perhaps even selfish way? And did the meticulously prepared binder he left behind for her (full of practical information, as well as a suicide note) provide the best indication of who he really was?
Shonk is not one to deliver easy answers. After all, the title of her book ends with a question mark.
  bshonk | Apr 19, 2010 |
Showing 2 of 2
No question, Shonk has it as a novelist
Comments
April 18, 2010
BY HEDY WEISS Sun-Times Theater Critic
In her first book, The Red Passport, Chicago writer Katherine Shonk gave us a collection of sharply observed, often bittersweet short stories about Russians (and visiting Americans) who were trying to make some sense of the seismic shifts that were part of post-Communist life in the 1990s.
Now, seven years later, Shonk’s first novel has arrived, and though her story unfolds much closer to home (primarily in Chicago and Evanston), her distinctive voice — the ironic, self-mocking sense of humor, the flair for capturing the ache of imperfect romantic love, the observation of quirky behavioral details, the starchy appraisal of flawed character, the telling sense of family dynamics — is once again on display.
In Happy Now? Shonk spins a tale of love, grief, guilt and suppressed anger as she homes in on Claire Kessler, a thirtysomething artist, builder of dollhouses and part-time “home stager” whose marriage of less than two years comes to a stunningly unexpected end when her husband, Jay Blaisdale, an academic psychologist researching child behavior, jumps to his death from a high-rise balcony.
» Click to enlarge image

LOCAL APPEARANCES
Katherine Shonk will read from and sign copies of Happy Now? at:
* 7:30 p.m. April 21 at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark.
* 6 p.m. April 29 at Barnes & Noble DePaul, 1 E. Jackson.
(Photo by Michael Rastall)

On the surface, such a story might seem like fodder for a Lifetime television network drama or a women’s magazine story. But Shonk (the sort of writer Saul Bellow might have dubbed “a first-class noticer”) makes gold of it — invariably stripping away sentimentality and replacing it with the mix of caustic intelligence and biting wit of someone who feels things deeply but never loses the ability to step back a bit and see the dysfunctional theater of it all.
And when it comes to profoundly private devastation, she can conjure that, too — whether in the form of a saved cell phone message from her husband that she believes recorded his final heartbeats, or the devoted vigil of her adoring and worried father, who watches her every move from his car during the weeks after Jay’s suicide.
Shonk also plays deftly with the timing of her revelations — moving backward and forward to parse out bits of information about the story’s central relationship (its gentle pleasures, its pervasive little aches, its unspoken tensions), as well as the flawed intimacies of many of her other characters, including the memorable cat her husband left behind.
The daughter of parents who divorced almost too civilly when she and her younger sister, Nomie (now married and pregnant), were still in grade school, Claire was something of a contented loner before she met Jay, though she was not beyond signing up with eHarmony. (The hilarious freak-show parade of dating stories here are laugh-out-loud funny: “At a friend’s party a man flirted with her and asked her out, but he rushed through their first date and shook her hand at the end of it, only to show up the next week at her group art show with his mother, who bought a work from someone else.”)
Jay, of course, was different. She gently picked him up while sitting in a cafe and overhearing him ask the manager about a long-defunct record store she knew. He had his first attack of depression before they wed and another profound bout during their honeymoon in Hawaii. He began seeing a therapist. Yet what began to seem predictable but manageable to Claire — they had bought a house and she was even thinking about a baby — was perhaps more than she was able or willing to fully face.
Was Claire oblivious, or detached, or incapable of complete intimacy? Or was Jay simply determined to end things in the most radical, perhaps even selfish way? And did the meticulously prepared binder he left behind for her (full of practical information, as well as a suicide note) provide the best indication of who he really was?
Shonk is not one to deliver easy answers. After all, the title of her book ends with a question mark.

added by bshonk | editChicago Sun Times, Hedy Weiss Chicago Sun Times (Apr 18, 2010)
 
Anyone who has passed up a popcorn car-chase flick in favor of a good indie knows how powerful a simple, skillfully told, character-driven story can be. Katherine Shonk does, and Happy Now? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), her first novel, is proof. ... Shonk's incisive writing feels effortless, at times stealthy. She's so economical in her descriptions-of a character's mannerisms, clothes, psyche-that she can evoke a resonant image in the space of a sentence.
added by kshonk | editElle magazine, Rachel Rosenblit (Mar 25, 2010)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374281432, Hardcover)

HOW FAR WILL WE GO TO DENY  THE DARKER SIDE OF OUR RELATIONSHIPS? HOW MUCH WILL WE RISK TO BE HAPPY?

After many lonely years and alarming Internet dates, Claire Kessler, an artist and self-proclaimed homebody, believed she had found the perfect man. Jay was earnest, romantic, and gainfully employed, and within a year they were married.

Less than two years later, Jay had killed himself.

On Valentine’s Day.

Happy Now? follows Claire’s chaotic and often tragicomic journey through the weeks that follow her husband’s suicide. Nomie, Claire’s pregnant younger sister, welcomes Claire into her guesthouse and abandons her own husband in solidarity. Claire’s father turns into a concerned stalker, trailing her every movement. Encounters with well-meaning therapists go horribly awry, and Jay’s abandoned cat goes on a hunger strike. All the while, Jay’s suicide note lurks on the coffee table, waiting for Claire to gather the courage to read it. As she struggles to confront the truth about her marriage, Claire also struggles to negotiate life as a young widow—the well-intentioned remarks, the sympathy bouquets, and the terrifying prospect of dating (and loving) again.

With wit and compassion, Katherine Shonk explores both the possibilities and the limitations of human relationships. Happy Now? is an uncommonly honest portrait of love, loss, and letting go.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Follows a woman's chaotic and often tragicomic journey through the weeks that follow her husband's suicide on Valentine's Day.

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Katherine Shonk is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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Katherine Shonk chatted with LibraryThing members from May 10, 2010 to May 23, 2010. Read the chat.

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