Those who achieve even five minutes of such perfection–mediated or no–deserve our envy. The world is a humid and difficult place, and we are so often exhausted, and love is strange, and arrives in stops and starts.
And Yet They Were Happy, Helen Phillips
Some stories simply win you over with sheer perseverance.
Opening the cover of And Yet They Were Happy by Helen Phillips I was certainly not prepared for the fable-like entries on each page. More than a collection of short-stories, Phillips’ work consists of brief snippets into her mind, tiny replications of places, moments, moods. Fears. Each scene part of a theme, the floods, the envies, the regimes, taking place in the limited span of a spread of open-faced pages.
Yes, I’d read the collection would somehow involve the likes of Noah and Bob Dylan, amongst others, and I was intrigued. But chalking it up to short themed-fables does not encompass the fictional way our characters find themselves in horrifying plights and comic-relief-scenarios. These stories tug at your heartstrings, and before you know it, you’re eagerly devouring each spread to see what fantastic tale comes next. Will it be strangely magical, or hauntingly melancholic?
Something about Phillips’ stories hooked me when I was least expecting it. I thought it came at the end, but looking back, I think it was we? #5 that did it. The brief entry of a woman “whose sadness was so enormous she knew it would kill her if she didn’t squeeze it into a cube one centimeter by centimeter by one centimeter.” Or perhaps it was we? #6, the story of a couple who devises detailed plans for what to do if they’re ever separated from each other, whether by train or death.
Maybe it was just Helen that won me over, something autobiographical in her writing that opens her head to the voyeurs beyond the page. How she ends the themes with a section entitled the helens. How I can feel passion and pain from her words. Who are we to turn away when someone has opened their mind up like she has?
No matter the reason, And Yet They Were Happy is unique in ways you just don’t find these days. Support Helen’s book (coming May 1, 2011 from Leapfrog Press), and all books published by independent presses. Pre-order And Yet They Were Happy on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and help save the dying art that is unconventional fiction.
(I received this book from the author for a fair and objective review)