Thursday, May 2, 2013

Half as Happy by Gregory Spatz

Half as Happy, the newest short story collection from Gregory Spatz, is about choices. Oh, it’s about a lot of other things too, which I’ll get to shortly, but mostly, it’s about people faced with decisions, some voluntary, some not, that impact their lives in ways they don’t foresee. The characters that populate these eight tales often don’t know much more than the reader, and their moments of epiphany, when they occur, are often obscured--we’re left to discern them ourselves.

As with most short story collections, Half as Happy defies easy summation. There’s a pair of identical twins, in love with the same woman; a big game hunter who’s having some marriage trouble; a bowmaker. and plenty of sex and death. In Spatz’s world, sex and death are ever-present spectres, the former to bring together, the latter to pull irreconcilably apart.

And everyone is always disappearing. Some people die. Some retreat so far into themselves that they disappear. One character diets until she almost literally plucks herself from existence. And yet, this world of incorporeal humans, prone to vanish at the slightest touch, is still populated by fully-formed, believable people, people who have a choice to make, a choice that, unbeknownst to them, decides their existence or lack of it.

I realize this review is a little more abstract than usual, but the themes Spatz wrestles with resonate with me. The world of Half as Happy, in spite of its often sad circumstances, is not a deterministic one--the characters often make the wrong decision, but the decision is theirs to make. And the melancholy collection ends--and this may be a very minor spoiler--on a happy note just in case the reader had gotten the idea that bad choices are always the end.


trish said...

"the characters often make the wrong decision, but the decision is theirs to make." This is such a good reminder. It's so hard to watch even fictional characters make the wrong decision. I often want to intercede, but that would really do no one any good because the decision isn't mine. It's theirs.

Thanks for being on this tour!

Brittany said...

Out of curiosity, do you think any/all of the stories would be appropriate for 14/15 year olds? A short story collection featuring characters on the cusp of decision making sounds like a perfect addition for a teacher's library, but I'll be teaching freshmen next year so I feel like I need to filter my content a little more!

Brent Waggoner said...

Um... the first story (Any Landlord's Dream) has quite a bit of explicit sexual language in it. There's a sexual element to several of the others, but that's the only one that might be a little much for that age range, as far as I can remember.