Lydia Millet My Happy Life: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780805068467

My Happy Life: A Novel

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9780805068467: My Happy Life: A Novel

A simple woman looks back on her harsh life with extraordinary insight and unexpected joy

At the opening of My Happy Life, the unnamed narrator of this bittersweet fictional memoir has been abandoned in a locked room of a defunct hospital for the mentally ill. She hasn't seen the nice man who brings her food in days; she's eaten the soap and the toothpaste; she tried to eat the plaster on her walls, a dietary adventure that ended none too well. And yet, curiously, the narrator is happy. Despite a lifetime of neglect, physical abuse, and loss, she's incapable of perceiving slight or injury. She has infinite faith in the goodwill of others, loves even her enemies, and finds grace and communion in places most people wouldn't dare to look. By stepping outside her meager circumstances, she's able to live each moment as though it were her last-with gratitude, longing, and delight.

Readers will be unable to put down Lydia Millet's impressive, original foray into serious literary fiction.

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Review:

The unreliable narrator tends to get a bum rap for committing a multitude of sins against trusting readers. But what happens when the narrator is impaired? In Lydia Millet's My Happy Life, a nameless woman with a mental deficiency is locked inside an abandoned asylum. To pass the time between staying alive and attempting escape, she scribbles her life story on the walls that separate her from the rest of the world.

In childhood she catapults from one charitable home to another, abused by fellow residents and schoolmates, and eventually winds up sleeping on park benches. As a young woman she falls prey to a sadistic wealthy patron who kidnaps her. With graceful and often poetic simplicity, Millet thrusts us into the childlike mind of a person who has a limited ability to make herself understood in an unforgiving world. This woman's story--covering decades and spanning continents--is utterly tragic, yet her capacity for joy shines throughout. It's quite an about-face from Millet's last novel, the silly and satirical George Bush, Dark Prince of Love. Despite its many abstractions (Where are we? How much time has passed?), the book flows easily and doesn't step outside this determined, faithful woman's story for a second. Her character may not have a name, but readers will ultimately trust her--in happiness and in sorrow. --Emily Russin

About the Author:

Lydia Millet is the author of two previous novels, Omnivores and George Bush, Dark Prince of Love. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, and New York City.

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Lydia Millet
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