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Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain : Stories
by Lucia Perillo


Overview - An addict trapped in a country house becomes obsessed with vacuum cleaners and the people who sell them door-to-door. An abandoned woman seeks consolation in tales of armed robbery told by one of her fellow suburban housewives. An accidental mother struggles to answer her daughter's badgering about her paternity.  Read more...

 
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More About Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain by Lucia Perillo
 
 
 
Overview
An addict trapped in a country house becomes obsessed with vacuum cleaners and the people who sell them door-to-door. An abandoned woman seeks consolation in tales of armed robbery told by one of her fellow suburban housewives. An accidental mother struggles to answer her daughter's badgering about her paternity. And in three stories readers meet Louisa, a woman with Down syndrome who serves as an accomplice to her younger sister's sexual exploits and her aging mother's fantasies of revenge Together, Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain is a sharp-edged, witty testament to the ambivalence of emotions, the way they pull in directions that often cancel one another out or twist their subjects into knots. In lyrical prose, Perillo draws on her training as a naturalist and a poet to map the terrain of the comic and the tragic, asking how we draw the boundaries between these two zones. What's funny, what's heartbreaking, and who gets to decide?

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780393083538
  • ISBN-10: 0393083535
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc
  • Publish Date: May 2012
  • Page Count: 211
  • Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.75 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.7 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Short Stories (single author)

 
BookPage Reviews

Focus on the family

This summer brings two short story collections perfect for dipping in and out of on your vacation: one by naturalist and poet Lucia Perillo, and a debut offering by Natalie Serber. Both focus on families, though the majority of Serber’s work is devoted more specifically to the ties between mothers and daughters.

The 14 stories in Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain are firmly rooted in the small towns and quiet neighborhoods of the Pacific Northwest. Three linked stories follow Louise, a developmentally disabled adult who is a good-natured witness to her mother’s unhappiness and her younger sister’s sexual adventures. Many of Lucia Perillo’s adult characters recollect their childhoods, seeking answers to current situations in past behaviors. The wild exploits of youth are dissected in several stories such as “The Cavalcade of the Old West,” in which two sisters recall their adventures at a summer fair before one sister’s promiscuity drove them down separate paths. In “Report from the Trenches,” a frustrated housewife lives vicariously through the memories of her neighbor, now prim and proper, but once a female gang member. The narrator in “A Ghost Story,” one of the strongest stories in the collection, remembers her years as a “girl flagger” in a highway crew and the affair she had with a man who literally picked her up off the street.

Perillo’s characters are tough but with an edgy wit and a refreshing lack of self-pity, despite their often dead-end circumstances. Perillo’s work as a poet informs and deepens her language; in “Big-dot Day,” a miserable young boy, dragged cross-country by his mother and her new boyfriend, catches a gull with the boyfriend’s fishing rod while stuck in a motel room. The title story of a chronically ill woman suspecting her husband of infidelity ends with a striking vision of a quilt turning into migrating birds.

Natalie Serber explores the emotional rollercoaster of motherhood, from euphoria to fear and everything in between. Most of the stories in Shout Her Lovely Name trace the life of Ruby Hargrove, the daughter of an alcoholic father and depressed mother and herself the single mother of a daughter, Nora. Beginning with “Ruby Jewel,” the stories follow Ruby as she disentangles herself from her parent’s emotional neediness, only to be abandoned with a new baby, and throw a spotlight on seminal episodes of Ruby and Nora’s peripatetic life from New York and California. Each of the other three stories in the collection stands alone, but their subjects—a mother addressing her teenage daughter’s anorexia, a new mother comforting an orphaned baby on a plane and a middle-aged wife and mother taking stock of her life at her husband’s 50th birthday party—mirror and echo the themes explored so thoughtfully in the stories of Nora and Ruby. Like Perillo, Serber writes with grace, humor and a thoughtful, but realistic, understanding of the emotional toll demanded by families.

 
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