Book Reviews

Happy Like This by Ashley Wurzbacher

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

Happy Like This was one of my anticipated literary fiction/anthology reads of 2019. I was so happy when my request was approved on NetGalley. I went in to this book with a lot of expectations. Read on to find out if they were met.

Goodreads synopsis:

The characters in Happy Like This are smart girls and professional women—social scientists, linguists, speech therapists, plant physiologists, dancers—who search for happiness in roles and relationships that are often unscripted or unconventional. In the midst of their ambivalence about marriage, monogamy, and motherhood and their struggles to accept and love their bodies, they look to other women for solidarity, stability, and validation. Sometimes they find it; sometimes they don’t. Spanning a wide range of distinct perspectives, voices, styles, and settings, the ten shimmering stories in Happy Like This offer deeply felt, often humorous meditations on the complexity of choice and the ambiguity of happiness.

Review:

Happy Like This is a collection of short stories about women. Smart women in stable jobs who look for happiness in the most unconventional places. There’s the social scientist trying to understand the exaggerated symptoms of hypochondriac college grads, the speech therapist who goes in search of her dead friend’s ex-lover from an extramarital relationship, all to understand her happy and content friend better, the plant physiologist who indulges in identity theft lite to build a fictional, happier (?) life story, and so many more.

What is happiness, really? Ambition? Having children who love you? Working hard? Not having your entire life revolve around work? These are all the questions the women of this novel try to answer with the few pages of the short story they’re centered around.

The women in this novel search for happiness in the most unusual ways and places. They’re not perfect, much like you and me, and that makes this anthology interesting. The individual stories don’t exactly have a beginning and conclusion–they’re more slices from these women’s lives.

The writing style can be best explained by this quote from the titular story:

“I wish I could tell you a better story: one in which things happen, one with a climax, and a resolution. This isn’t any of that.”

While I enjoyed some stories in this collection, some weren’t as interesting. I found a couple insipid when compared to the rest. Another problem–and this one is quite big–that I had with the book was the offhand fatphobic writing.

Sure, it’s supposed to be an unconventional anthology about women who won’t necessarily achieve sainthood, but that doesn’t excuse the language used about fat folx in this book.

Words like “blubber”, “pudgy”, “squishy”, “lumpen”, and “languid” have all been used in this book to describe fat people. “Blubber” is from one of the stories in this book with a woman who is fat and can’t accept it, especially when she keeps comparing herself to her body-builder thin sister. The rest are all used quite unnecessarily . “Lumpen and languid” especially made my blood boil, because they once again play into the usual stereotype of fat people being lazy.

One of the main characters, a high school kid, in the book has this in her POV:

“When Tiff was little, she and her brother used to accompany their mother to the aerobics classes she led at the Y. They’d sit back to back under a table eating strawberry fruit snacks and laughing at the fat ladies in the back row heaving and rippling.

Another extract, this time ableist too:

“Laura knew that the odds were against such mastery. Such luck, such restraint, such unlikely triumph over the slop of everyday life. Everyone was hurt, everyone was fat, everyone was crippled, heavy, unbalanced”.

None of these quotes were to explain the characteristics of the main characters thinking them–they were too widespread and their fatphobia is never addressed anyway. This could have been a great read but any love I had for the writing quickly crumbled when I came across these quotes. This is one book that could have done with a sensitivity reader.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


~ Shruti

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5 thoughts on “Happy Like This by Ashley Wurzbacher

  1. When I read the synopsis I was sure that this would be a book I would enjoy but then I read your review and felt so angry. There is enough body shaming in the media, we don’t need it in books too. I sometimes wonder how these topics get past so many proofs and edits, I guess publishers don’t pay too much attention into these things nowadays which is very wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

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