Book Review: 'Happy All The Time' and 'Small Blessings'

The Fiction Addiction

Happy All The Time by Laurie Colvin tells the story of Guido and Vincent, third cousins and best friends, and of Holly and Misty, the two women they eventually meet and marry. Character-driven stories are great, even better if the book's really all about personal relationships.  It's not only romantic relationships, one of the most delightful minor arcs is between hardworking Misty and the wealthy dilettante who owns the company and indulges his whims in managing her department.

The novel is all about people interacting with each other. There's almost no tension in this book, mostly we watch people going about their lives and making the sort of minor choices that lead to larger outcomes, and understanding or misunderstanding each other. The tone reminded me of a Maeve Binchy novel, if all the characters were wealthy Manhattanites, that is.

I love stories about developed characters and personal relationships, and in this novel, there was almost no plot to distract from the personalities in the book. Instead of tension and drama with manufactured arguments and reconciliations, this was just a gentle rumination on why we fall for the people we love, and how relationships grow and change.

Happy All The Time is hardly a dramatic page-turner, but it's still really hard to put it down.

In the same vein of a book where the story is really about humans trying to be good to to each other is Small Blessings, by Martha Woodroof. This novel is about a small college town where everyone cares about each other just a little more than usual.

Professor Tom Putnam is planning to live out his life quietly teaching English and quietly caring for his mentally ill wife. But a series of sudden events, beginning with the arrival of a new bookstore clerk and a letter from an ex-lover telling Tom he has a son, change that for him.

This is the opposite of Happy all The Time, even though the feeling is similar. I want to tell you about this story, but listing the events just sound like random plot twists. Sure, there’s insanity and alcoholism, and a paternity test,  a surprising death, a backpack full of cash, and a kidnapping. But mostly what matters is each character trying to connect with others.

This is, despite all the dramatic events, a really gentle story about fallible humans trying to care for other fallible humans.

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