Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Half as Happy"

Gregory Spatz is the author of the novels Inukshuk, Fiddler’s Dream, and No One But Us, and the short fiction collections Wonderful Tricks and Half as Happy. He has also written for the Oxford American and Poets and Writers and his stories have appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker. He is the recipient of a Washington State Book Award, Spokane Arts Commission Individual Artist of the Year Award, and National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches in the MFA program at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University.

Spatz applied the Page 69 Test to Half as Happy and reported the following:
Since Half as Happy is a short story collection, it’s difficult to say which page, if any, might be most representative of the book as a whole. The stories are all different in tone, style and form, don’t share characters, plot points or setting.

That said, there are some recurring motifs and themes throughout the stories—love, loss, music, identity, fate…to name a few—and the scene that falls on page 69 happens to include one of the most revealing moments for the main character whose story also happens to be my personal favorite in the book: “No Kind of Music.”

In “No Kind of Music,” the main character, Patrick, an accountant, has recently lost his last living relative and his marriage has fallen apart (his wife left him for a one-legged marathon runner). With nothing much to live for, he finds himself in an oddly serene but lonely state, and drawn to the symphony on a regular basis for the pleasures and solace music can provide. He has no background in music, no arts education and nothing to guide him in his interests—only some dim recollections of afternoons with his maternal grandfather, an armchair conductor/audiophile, and his own curiosity which leads him to read books about the lives of the composers.

In the scene we get on page 69, Patrick’s wife has shown up unexpectedly a year after having moved out. Her new boyfriend, Dave, is out of town for a race. She and Patrick have spent the night walking, talking, drinking tea, reminiscing. Page 69 is the culmination of all that, the real end of the end for them, and the perfect embodiment of everything that Patrick has lost and is about to lose again. If I had to pick a representative paragraph for “No Kind of Music,” it would be this one, and if I had to pick a single story that I wish anyone who bought the book might read, it would be this story.

Test result: definitely positive.

The page:
The whole time, making love to her, he’d known it was their last. Surprisingly, his feeling about that wasn’t all sad. Sensations were heightened out of proportion, and perception. He was pretty sure he’d never apprehended another person as fully and clearly, never known as exactly how his own touch registered, and never been as generous with or at ease in his own body responding to her touch; knew, too, even as it was happening, that he would likely never remember a single night of lovemaking as vividly as this one. She kept her socks on through it and fell asleep as she always had, back to him, knees pulled to her chest, sheets drawn tightly around her chin. Once, sliding over top of her, fingers locked through hers and feeling the absence of any metal on her left ring finger, he had an inkling of the abyss ahead—how bad this was going to feel later, tomorrow and the day after—an inkling of what he was losing even as he was in the throes of having it. He kept waking up and drifting back off all night, amazed that the night should last this long, the street light falling through the uncovered window and across his new bed like a ladder of light between them—a bridge or barrier he couldn’t say, possibly both. Only after she’d gone and he’d showered and eaten something and sat down again at the table where they’d drank tea the night before, staring into the empty space where she’d sat, the empty day ahead against which he had nothing in store save tonight’s program at the symphony—Brahms Fourth and Gyorgy Ligeti—did it hit him. If she didn’t call or write he might not see or talk to her again until one of them filed for divorce. It would be months or years or never. He would not be the one to make contact. That had never been his role in the marriage and certainly wasn’t now, given all that had happened. Now he needed to wait. Until then, he wouldn’t see her.
Learn more about the book and author at Gregory Spatz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue