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The Half-Life of Happiness

Casey, John

127 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0679409785 / ISBN 13: 9780679409786
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Incorporated, New York, NY, U.S.A., 1998
Condition: Fine Hardcover
From Kennedy Books (Jamestown, ND, U.S.A.)

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A Fine/Fine unread copy protected by Archival Brodart Cover. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 000397

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Half-Life of Happiness

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Incorporated, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition.

About this title


From the winner of the 1989 National Book Award (for Spartina), a major new novel--wise, sad, and richly comic--about the meltdown of a marriage against the backdrop of a gloriously awful congressional campaign. Charlottesville, Virginia, 1978: Mike is a successful forty-something lawyer, a onetime congressional staffer who's had it with Washington; Joss, his wife, is a filmmaker. They're Virginia liberals with a clan of close-knit friends--a bright, edgy, flirty, games-playing group, spinning like a Catherine wheel around Mike and Joss. But the sparks that fly between the two are getting hotter and more dangerous, as Joss' restlessness turns to impatience and then anger. When one of the group introduces them all to the woman he wants to marry, things suddenly explode--this new arrival and Joss fall passionately in love, and their whole world careens out of control.

What ensues is tragicomedy, as Mike tries to allay his rage and misery by letting himself get sucked into a trial run for a seat in Congress. He wants to be a hero to someone; instead he becomes the unwitting star of a political farce. Meantime, Joss is struggling with her new life, and their two young daughters (who form a lovingly unmerciful Greek chorus commenting on the action) have to navigate a turmoil in which one parent is a public joke and the other a private scandal. Rarely has the undoing of love been chronicled with such large-hearted humanity.


Although The Half-Life of Happiness begins "For no reason he could think of, Mike felt terrific," the reader is not reassured. The details accrue with disturbing precision during Mike's walk across Charlottesville's Courthouse Square: clear spring sky, soft breeze, pretty tax specialist, bouncy tap-dance teacher, languorous bookstore clerk, charmingly stuttering woman doctor. Then we glimpse the house he shares with his wife and their two daughters: ramshackle, cluttered, incomplete--"a series of partly assembled kits for family happiness." Clearly, this is one marriage--one family--with trouble in its future. Of course, without trouble, there'd be no novel. Only in this case, the family is so fun, their circle of bright, articulate, bohemian friends so very winning, that watching them careen toward disaster has the same nasty inevitability as a horror movie: one wants to throw up a hand and say, "Wait! Don't go see what was making that noise upstairs!"

When trouble arrives, it takes the shape of Bonnie, the new girlfriend of one of their gang. Flirtatious and manipulative, with thin, "gobbly" lips, Bonnie seduces not Mike, surprisingly, but his caustically funny filmmaker wife, Joss. Watching his marriage crumble around him, Mike lets himself be persuaded to enter a congressional race that turns into a humiliating farce, while the couple's two daughters observe their parents' plight with unforgiving clarity. The author of the National Book Award-winning Spartina, Casey brings new energy to what could be a familiar story, and his take on the domestic novel, late 1970s style, is a masterpiece of finely drawn characters and meticulous detail.

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