Single, Carefree, Mellow

1 of 17
Single, Carefree, Mellow
240 pages; Knopf
Whether falling short of their own expectations or into the beds of married men, the protagonists in Katherine Heiny's debut story collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow, are a joyful mess. A mother botches her son's birthday party by hiring a depressive "balloonologist"; Maya, a librarian, juggles her attraction to her dying dog's vet, her French boss and her long-term boyfriend, Rhodes. In every case, caution is thrown to the wind, lessons go unlearned—and somehow everyone is the better for it.

Heiny uses dark humor to examine life's absurdities, paying close attention to the fears and frustrations inherent in modern womanhood. In "Grendel's Mother," pregnant Maya's ob-gyn greets her in the exam room wearing a seersucker suit and boater hat, which both alarms and pleases Maya "because she desperately wanted to believe that having a baby could be a jolly, carefree experience." In "Blue Heron Bridge," the jubilation an affair brings to an overextended mother is made possible by the babysitting services of a minister living above the family's garage.

Heiny's protagonists are so fullhearted and life loving, we can't help rooting for them. Even scorned partners seem incapable of holding a grudge against the women who've wronged them: In the three stories dedicated to Maya's ongoing relationship with Rhodes, he greets her seesawing affections with back rubs and episodes of Jeopardy! in bed. It's a measure of Heiny's talent that Rhodes comes off not as a buffoon but as a man patient enough to wait out an emotional storm.

Along with its wit, what makes Single, Carefree, Mellow an especially exhilarating read is the author's respect for her hedonists. Rather than judge her characters' betrayals, Heiny gives them time to compare the sugar high of instant gratification with the mature rewards of the long term. The collection is a celebration not of faithfulness but of our faith in love.
— Courtney Maum