My Happy Life

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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 ...

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Occasionally a book comes along that is truly written (as writers are instructed books should be) as if it were the writer's last: Millet's sad and infinitely touching third novel (after the absurdist George Bush, Dark Prince of Love) is such an extraordinary work. Brief and unsparingly forthright, the story is told from the miraculously cheerful perspective of a battered, neglected, friendless woman who is locked inside a windowless madhouse cell. The institution is apparently scheduled for demolition; the narrator's last caretaker, Jim, has not returned to feed her in some time. All she possesses are a few broken-down items she carries with her everywhere and that tell her "happy life" story: a cardboard box labeled Brown Ladies Narrow 8, in which she was left at a foundling home as an infant; a broken tooth from habitual pummelings she incurred as a "meat sandwich" at the hands of her fellow orphans; a frayed orange towel she used to sleep in, in parks; and, most horribly, a torn corner of one of the bills that were left to her by a rich older man who locked her away, beat her regularly with a "historical instrument" and later stole her baby. Despite the ghastly physical scars the narrator bears from neglect and abuse at others' hands, she remains a na?f at heart, prone to forgive human harshness as people's inability "to know their own strength." Most incredibly, Millet has managed a few light-handed, affecting strokes to give her narrator charm and even humor ("Excuse me," she says when brutally overcome). The details of her fabulous, tortured life are precise and quirky, and she is always allowed to tell her story in her own childlike way to startling ironic effect in a novel thatstands as a courageous and memorable achievement. (Jan. 9) Forecast: Millet's satirical voice is distinctive, but her work tends to resist easy classification. This novel represents a definite leap for her, and should raise her profile, though it is probably too grim to appeal to a truly wide audience. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Like Faulkner's Benjy from The Sound and the Fury, Millet's unnamed narrator is sweet, vulnerable, potentially dangerous, desperate for love, and confused about the passage of time ("a year of the world is not the same as a year of the body," she says). Although she has been bounced in and out of the foster care system, sexually abused, beaten, and forced into solitary confinement, the narrator maintains a carefree and grateful attitude toward the world and all who inhabit it. The only person who draws her ire is the mysterious and frightening Mr. D., a man who tortures her for years, impregnates her (to gain an heir to his fortune), then takes her to an unnamed foreign country and abandons her there. It's an improbable subplot, but the narrator's subsequent search for her baby gives energy to an otherwise meandering narrative. Overall, the story is terribly grim, and the narrator's simplistic, childlike wonder offers so little depth that the reader is left wondering whether, in the end, her suffering has had any meaning. An optional purchase. Amy Strong, South Portland, ME Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805068467
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/1902
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Lydia Millet

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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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2011

    Outstanding

    Lydia Millet has displayed her talent in this dark but presistently optimistic novel of a woman left to her own devices her whole, not so happy, life.
    I love the technical aspect as well as the story itself. This is the sort of work I aspire to create.
    Amazing.

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  • Posted December 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This book... Was GREAT!

    Read the book, People! It's so wonderfully odd and, like I said before, great!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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