I imagine Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow is what a ladies-only episode of Friends would look like: unforgivingly good. In a nutshell, if you make no apologies for being single, like myself, you won’t be able to tear away from these stories, or the women pulsing within them.
At a time when I felt most insecure and ashamed of my own failed relationships, these stories were evidence of my not being alone. Even if that meant living vicariously through the women in Heiny’s stories, it was well worth the experience; this book became my lifesaver. I thought I was crazy for wanting that dauntless, wicked, treacherous love that seems so unreasonable these days. Then again, these were fictive women with fictive lives but their stories were very real to me.
A brief overview: This short story collection seats a roundtable of women from different walks of life; with testimonies as complex and poignant as their individual voices; and all faced with the guilt of cheating on their partners. I found that all of Heiny’s female leads in her stories are very much existent; each woman crashes and burns onto every page. I am convinced that Heiny, by way of literary witchcraft, has completely reinvented the way we perceive dishonesty in relationships. And for such skill as that, I both hate and admire her for it all the more.
The premise of these stories is that every woman is facing the same inner-conflict: having extramarital affairs. While many of the women in Heiny’s stories are flawed in other ways, from rabid jealousy to suddenly falling out of love with their lover with very little explanation — these women are in no way ratified for their actions.
I’d say this book orbits less around the fact that these women cheat on their partners than it does the way women perceive each other in the most fascinating, vicious ways. And I believe it was that sort of distraction that made this collection unputdownable, and why I couldn’t stop reading her stories back-to-back.
Even though I am not a woman, I was able to juxtapose myself with many of her female characters and their emotions. Specifically, Gwen from “How to Give The Wrong Impression”; Nina from “Blue Heron Bridge”; and Maya, who reappears in many other stories besides the title story, who finally broke my heart into pieces. I was so deeply invested in these women that I couldn’t help but imagine myself willing to confront my own demons as these ladies have.