Starting from Happy

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Overview

While waiting in line for apple pie at a party, Imogene Gilfeather, a lingerie designer who does not understand the reason for romance, meets Wally Yez, a scientist whose business card says “An Answer for Everything.” Imogene is told that Wally is the perfect guy. (“Perfect,” she replies, “is not my type.”) He is told that her company, Featherware, manufactures intimates (that gets his attention). Unfazed by Imogene’s indifference (who needs love when you have a career, friends, and an undemanding affair with a ...

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Starting from Happy: A Novel

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Overview

While waiting in line for apple pie at a party, Imogene Gilfeather, a lingerie designer who does not understand the reason for romance, meets Wally Yez, a scientist whose business card says “An Answer for Everything.” Imogene is told that Wally is the perfect guy. (“Perfect,” she replies, “is not my type.”) He is told that her company, Featherware, manufactures intimates (that gets his attention). Unfazed by Imogene’s indifference (who needs love when you have a career, friends, and an undemanding affair with a married man?), Wally resolves to win her over. E-mails turn into late-night phone calls; one date turns into two and then into more. Thus begins the most absurd and amusingly unbalanced relationship to grace the pages of a novel.

Wally is certain he and Imogene are meant for each other (They both use mechanical pencils! Neither has had mumps! They are so alike!), but convincing his beloved is another matter. (“Do you know why it is I don’t have pierced ears?” she asks. “Because it’s too permanent.”) In defiance of the odds, or the gods, or perhaps just Imogene’s qualms, Wally and Imogene become a pair. They celebrate their anniversaries—the first time they touched each other on purpose, took public transportation together, saw the other with wet hair. But can they possibly end as happily as they’ve begun? (“Does he really have a cowlick? If yes, no bed will ever be big enough.”)

Made up of hundreds of chaplettes, clever illustrations, and darkly funny commentary on getting together and staying the course, Starting from Happy is a cunning and sophisticated send-up of coupledom that showcases one of the finest comic writers of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Domestic lit gets a stylish, sarcastic tweak in former SNL writer Marx's sort-of love story about a cranky New York lingerie designer and a geeky scientist (after Him Her Him Again The End of Him). An inauspicious meeting leads to 618 micro-chapters during which Imogene Gilfeather and Wally Yez have been compatible singles, dutiful marrieds, and committed parents—and thought better of each station. Marx moves the story forward with an infectious zeal, ditching traditional narrative in favor of a torrent of often tweet-sized "chaplettes" that distill the essential truth about falling in love and staying there—with whimsical illustrations, including a New York child's guide to the U.S. and Imogene's shroud of Turin chemise. With no expectations for uplifting, life-affirming messages about family and commitment, Marx allows readers to revel in a quirky take on sex (and death) in the city. "Did anything go well for Wally and Imogene in these years? Were there moments of happiness?" ask the intrusive author. "Sure there were, but is that the kind of book you want to read?" Definitely not. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Patty Marx is a genius of trenchant zaniness."
—Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate at the Stairs

“Stylish and sarcastic. Marx moves the story forward with infectious zeal and allows readers to revel in a quirky take on sex (and death) in the city.” —Publishers Weekly

"Patty Marx is an authentic wit and her book is funny and often brilliant." –Woody Allen

“A funny boy-meets-girl novel in witty, quick bits that read like your best friend’s best tweets.”
O Magazine

“A book that’s moving and sweet. As the summer lopes toward its end, those looking for one last beach read could do a lot worse than to read this unexpectedly lovely book - in fact, one could hardly do better.” —Boston Globe

“A poignant portrait of a long-term relationship, with all the disappointments and occasional triumphs that entails. A funny, sad and original take on the mating game.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Comedic high art. Readers who enjoy the sly observations of Nora Ephron and the smart silliness of Woody Allen and Steve Martin should try Starting from Happy.” —Booklist

Library Journal
A former writer for Saturday Night Live whose work has often appeared in The New Yorker, Time, and the New York Times Magazine, Marx works best in short form. This novel, written in 618 "chaplettes" with abundant white space and the occasional line sketch thrown in, is the story of the romance between lingerie designer Imogene Gilfeather and scientist Wally Yez. Most of the text offers third-person narration, but the author inserts herself into the occasional chaplette, as in this explanation of why chaplettes 251–292 are excluded: "Patty meant 251. But Patty likes the ring of 293." We see the couple meet, begin a relationship, and detour into other relationships. Alternate endings see them break up and/or have children and grandchildren and live happily ever after until death does them part. The "Prolegomenon" tells of the author's struggles to meet the publisher's expected word count, a challenge shared by this reviewer. VERDICT This work is definitely quirky and perhaps best suited to a young, hip, urban audience not alienated by a high cuteness factor.—Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Likable goofball Wally falls hard for aloof lingerie designer Imogene Gilfeather.

Their story told through a series of brief "chaplettes," the mismatched lovers at the heart of this experimental comic novel have no business, and every reason, for being together. Described by a friend as a big "yes," quirky scientist Wally Yez knows exactly what he wants when he spies a statuesque redhead at a party in Manhattan. Imogene's reputation as an eligible designer of fine ladies undergarments precedes her, but a relationship with Wally is just about the last thing on her mind. A fiercely independent creature of habit, she is obsessed with her career and more-or-less happy with her married lover Ron de Jean, a well-known sleep researcher. She blows off a series of dates, but Wally does not give up easily, and the two begin an odd phone relationship that eventually leads to actual dates followed by cohabitation. Ambivalent on the best of days, Imogene is reluctant to marry, but slowly finds her will worn away by Wally's persistence and the two end up in the suburbs, raising two radically different kids. Or do they? That is because Marx (Him Her Him Again the End of Him, 2007, etc.) does not exactly follow a conventional structure and liberally inserts herself into the narrative. But peppered among the drawings and self-consciously wacky asides emerges a poignant portrait of a long-term relationship, with all the disappointments and occasional triumphs that entails. Ideally suited to the kind of audience that enjoys Woody Allen movies, this very clever effort is, like its lead characters, something of an acquired taste. But Imogene, especially, impresses as a creation of far more depth than her ice-queen exterior would suggest.

A funny, sad and original take on the mating game.

The Barnes & Noble Review

It's one thing to crack a funny joke or two, another to sustain biting wit for a whole book—and still another to remain blisteringly funny over the course of a career. Patricia Marx, a former writer for Saturday Night Live whose hilarious "On and Off the Avenue" columns for The New Yorker help put the zing back in Christmas shopping, has channeled her zany, sarcastic humor into an offbeat modern love story, Starting from Happy.

Marx's first novel, Him Her Him Again the End of Him (2007), found the screwball humor in its narrator's hopeless, pathetic, ongoing infatuation with a total cad. When the pompous, ten-timing jerk meets an untimely Howards End–style demise involving a shaky bookcase, we guffaw with delight. Starting from Happy looks at barely requited love from the other side of the gender divide, and our attachment to Marx's oddly matched pair is so strong that we're not even thrilled to see them meet timely ends.

For this second novel, Marx digs deep into her bag of comedic tricks, letting loose with both verbal and visual gags. In hundreds of "chaplettes" and dozens of graphs and cartoonish drawings, she tells the unlikely story of science researcher/hypernerd Wally Yez's lifelong passion for lingerie designer Imogene Gilfeather. Some of the humor is sophomoric—such as the sequence of 201 "La la la la's" helping her reach a required word count in the "Prolegomenon" she's forced to write after every famous writer asked to provide a foreword begs off—with even Joyce Carol Oates citing "a bout of writer's block."

But Marx is fearless—she'll try anything for a laugh—and she keeps them coming right through the index and end pages. Imogene's mother, who is introduced as a woman who "divides her time between being glad she brought a sweater and wishing she'd brought a sweater, " has no wrinkles, "the result of her having committed early on to a life without smiling." Sour Imogene lulls herself to sleep counting her divorced friends and, later, "counting the grandchildren in her circle who'd been rejected from the nursery school of 'their' choice." The quotation marks around "their" show just how articulate punctuation can be.

Given Imogene's occupation, there's a run of underwear jokes, including strangulation via "the Isadora Duncan bra" from Featherware's "Last Dance" line. The lingerie buyer at Saks, whom Imogene desperately wants to impress with her special occasion Passover Let My People Go bra, is described as "Taciturn in 12 languages." When Imogene declines a date with Wally because she's fitting a D+ cover girl, he replies, "Tell her that if she needs a tutor..."

The main source of humor in Starting from Happy is friction- induced, sparks flying from the rub between exuberantly, irrepressibly positive Wally and consistently negative Imogene. Commenting on her endearing hero, Marx writes, "Life tries hard to bring us down, but it faced a dogged athlete when it played with Wally." Early in their courtship, Imogene e-mails Wally, "I can promise you neither time nor devotion." He replies, "I'll settle for one or the other?. You pick."

In her running commentary, the authorial stand-in, called Patty, explains, "Wally was big on slim chances. 'One hundred percent of big lottery winners had infinitesimally small odds of becoming lottery winners' was one of the truisms Wally lived his life by." And Patty herself comes in for comment, in postmodern style: A few pages later, Marx writes, "Patty would like it known that she was highly impressed with herself for spelling the word infinitesimally correctly on the first try." More trenchantly, she addresses "readers who have felt themselves swept with consternation regarding the brevity of the chaplettes, " countering pointedly, "And what about life?"

Starting from Happy is filled with nods to other cartoonists, including a drawing of a juvenile delinquent's fingerprint with hidden "Ninas, " ? la Al Hirschfeld. A child's-eye view of world geography, complete with the "Carrot Being" sea, evokes Saul Steinberg and Maira Kalman's witty New Yorker covers, while a guide to pasta shapes acceptable to a picky eater brings to mind Roz Chast's neurotic diners. But Marx imbues her book with a saucy flavor all her own, and Starting from Happy has a sweet al dente give to its bite that's pretty irresistible—even to picky readers.

Scott McLemee writes the weekly column "Intellectual Affairs" for Inside Higher Ed. He is a member of the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. Reviewer: Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439101285
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 8/23/2011
  • Edition description: Simon & Schuster
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Marx, a television screenwriter for shows such as Saturday Night Live, is the author of How to Regain Your Virginity and Meet My Staff.

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