Single, Carefree, Mellow, Katherine Heiny: Book Review

single carefree mellow katherine heiny book reviewKnopf/ Lexey Swall
Single, Carefree, Mellow: Stories Book Cover Single, Carefree, Mellow: Stories
Katherine Heiny
Adult Fiction, Short Stories
February 3, 2015

Maya is in love with both her boyfriend and her boss. Sadie’s lover calls her as he drives to meet his wife at marriage counseling. Gwen pines for her roommate, a man who will hold her hand but then tells her that her palm is sweaty. And Sasha agrees to have a drink with her married lover’s wife and then immediately regrets it. These are the women of Single, Carefree, Mellow, and in these eleven sublime stories they are grappling with unwelcome houseguests, disastrous birthday parties, needy but loyal friends, and all manner of love, secrets, and betrayal.

In “Cranberry Relish” Josie’s ex—a man she met on Facebook—has a new girlfriend he found on Twitter. In “Blue Heron Bridge” Nina is more worried that the Presbyterian minister living in her garage will hear her kids swearing than about his finding out that she’s sleeping with her running partner. And in “The Rhett Butlers” a teenager loses her virginity to her history teacher and then outgrows him.

In snappy, glittering prose that is both utterly hilarious and achingly poignant, Katherine Heiny chronicles the ways in which we are unfaithful to each other, both willfully and unwittingly. Maya, who appears in the title story and again in various states of love, forms the spine of this linked collection, and shows us through her moments of pleasure, loss, deceit, and kindness just how fickle the human heart can be.

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.

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Paris Close
the authorParis Close

Founding Editor. Give me Gillian Flynn or give me death.