Fabulous Fiction Firsts #336
This memorable debut collection Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain: stories * * * by award-winning (MacArthur Fellow, and Pulitzer Prize finalist) poet Lucia Perillo (author website) is not be missed.
Critics and reviewers are calling it "bleakly funny and harrowing", "unpredictable, relentlessly frank and incisive with stunning imagery", Perillo's denizen from a small town in the Pacific Northwest will earn your admiration, if not your respect. Bonnie Jo Campbell remarked that while these "working-class mothers, daughters, and sisters, who don't bitch or ask for sympathy from anyone... they may work shitty jobs, fool around with men they don't love, and sport unfortunate tattoos, but they triumph by inhabiting their bodies fully".
Among them, you will have your favorites - whether it is the self-medicated housewife, stranded and marginalized, who finds solace in state-of-the art vacuum cleaners and their door-to-door salesmen (in "Doctor Vicks"); or Jill, the sweater-and-pearls variety who recounts tales of armed robbery (in "Report from the Trenches"); or Louisa, a 30 year-old with Down syndrome who serves as an accomplice to her younger sister's sexual exploits (in "Bad Boy Number Seventeen") and her aging mother's fantasies of revenge. The one thread that runs through them might well be the way they heroically, though not always wisely, "wanting to flaunt the way all the rest of us think that we're stuck with the cards that we've been dealt".
"Emotionally unflinching stories of considerable power, wonder and humor", like their protagonists, they will move you and steal your heart. For readers who enjoy the short stories of Alice Munro, William Trevor, and Thomas Lynch.
* * * = starred reviews