Happy Now? is a humorous novel, despite the concept: following a young wife during the weeks after her husband’s suicide on Valentine’s Day.
Much of this entertaining novel involves Claire’s relationship with her family. They are there to help her through the loss of her young husband, and the relationship she has with them is complex. While the story of the short marriage, with its hints of depression, and the ultimate suicide of her husband, Jay, keeps you reading, her family plays an integral role. The side story about Claire’s relationship with her father is especially intriguing. He appears in the story and seems to think it is his job to sit in his car watching and protecting his daughter. She gazes out the window, comforted to find him sitting there, often thinking to herself: “Look at me.”
The long journey through grief over the death of a loved one has a familiar tone. That of a house where she is welcome to stay and recover, since she doesn’t want to be alone. A house filled with flowers and too much food, when all she wants to do is sleep.
Happy Now? is rich with interesting character development, complex relationships, and especially Claire’s difficulty in processing the loss. The author’s gift at character and dialog may surpass her ability to tell a deeper story about Claire’s true feelings in her relationship with her husband and family. Readers may note an underlying sense of regret, over the many times she recalls conversations with Jay, but realizes neither was really communicating their true feelings.
Shonk is a real pro at character development. We learn enough about Jay to understand why he left her not just a suicide note, but a suicide binder filled with details he wanted her to know but never told her. We wait with Claire for a long time before she can actually bear to open the binder, and as she works her way out of her pain and loss. The book serves to teach us more about what goes unsaid in our own relationships, and brings forth all the complexities of loss and the long road to recovery.
Happy Now? includes a brief discussion guide for book clubs, but many of the answers remain in the author’s mind, leaving us hoping for a new novel soon.