Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Half as Happy

Half as Happy: Stories
by Gregory Spatz
182 pages
Engine Books
a copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours

Driving to work this morning I had that very pleasing sensation that you have when you a remembering a mysteriously stirring dream. There are dreams that leave a residue, a reverberation, that follows you the rest of your day. That is the sensation I had after reading Half as Happy.

Gregory Spatz takes the eight stories in his collection, Half as Happy, right up to the edge of surrealism....but never over that edge. Every thing that happens in these stories could happen in life---but life sometimes has the quality of a dream, and Spatz moves into that space where our daily lives intersect with some deep, rarely acknowledged need or truth or desire.

In "Any Landlord's Dream" a young couple rents a house, bringing their separate and shared griefs with them. Their landlord is just on the periphery of the story, but in a sense he is an intruder on the marriage and the grief. Often the characters in Spatz's stories carry their griefs, their resentments, their losses---if not in their conscious thoughts, then in dreams or even fantasies. When two such characters collide (sometimes quite literally), that's when things get really interesting.

Each one of the stories in Half as Happy enters into the characters' lives just as trouble has torn a hole in the great fabric we construct that makes up the surface of our lives. It might be a surface of a happy marriage, or of sibling camaraderie, or of a perfect life. Spatz expertly explores these rifts and tears in the lives of his characters without offering up facile answers or easy epiphanies. His characters are often strangely unaware of their own motives and motivations---just like real people. But Spatz gives his characters' lives a precision and exactitude that is deeply satisfying to the reader--these are real people, they could be people you or I might know.

Spatz's writing is so good the reader barely sees it. There isn't a wrong note in these stories (many of which have at least a glancing reference to music). One of my favorite stories from the collection is "The Bowmaker's Cats." This story is weird, unsettling, and deeply pleasurable. It's a crazy story, told from the point of view of a musician....or a group of musicians, really. The story is told in the first person plural, and this disorienting narrative point of view dovetails perfectly with the story, a tale of invisible cats, an invisible wife, and a missing bow.

In Half as Happy, an ostensibly happy man, ostensibly happily married, goes home every day at lunch to watch his wife swim laps in their beautiful pool, then pull herself out of the pool to read a book, all the while ignoring him, a fact the happy man seems to ignore.

I think my favorite story in Half as Happy is the final story, "String." The more I think about this story, the more I love it, and all I can say is that the story is about how we are all connected, and includes a prank gone dreadfully wrong.

I think this is one of the best story collections I have read in a long, long time. Strange, wistful, sad, funny, and strangely affecting, Half as Happy is just like life....deep, inexplicable, moving.


Lisa said...

I really want to love short stories but few collections have captured me. Sounds like this one has that capacity.

bibliophiliac said...

@Lisa - I always look for short story collections to review; I really did love this one1

GSpatz said...

Thank you so much for the kind and generous review! I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed Half as Happy! A wonderful way to kick off the TLC Blogtour.


Louise Crawford said...

I am Greg's publicist and I was so gratified to read your thoughtful review of Half as Happy. I've been reading the stories for months and love them. So great that they're now going out into the world and that people like you are enjoying them.


bibliophiliac said...

@Greg-my pleasure!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I don't generally read short story collections but when I do I'm reminded of why they are so great. This collection seems like a wonderful one to remind me of what I love about short stories!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Bellezza said...

I am so excited to read this after your review. The publishers have sent me a copy, which I have on the back burner, but the praise for this collection is phenomenal. When I read it, and post my thoughts, I'll be sure to link to your review.

bibliophiliac said...

@Louise Crawford-you clearly have a passion for your work!
@Heather-I'm always on the lookout for great short story collections...
@Bellezza-hope you enjoy the collection. I can't wait to hear what you think...