Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: And Yet They Were Happy

Read 6/7/11 - 6/23/11
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with genre
Pgs: 305

And Yet They Were Happy joined the list of author/reader discussion novels this month on TNBBC and was welcomed with words of praise and excitement.

This collection of short stories stands out among the rest of it's kind because each of the stories contained between it's covers are exactly two pages long: Two-paged stories that detail the lives of a young recently married couple who manage to make their home among the chaos of disasters, floods, and monsters.

The intentional symmetry of the stories forced author Helen Philips to choose her words carefully. (Word economy, I have to believe, is not something a writer usually concerns themselves with.) Pulling from personal experience, existing fables and legends, and even her own dreams, Phillips creatively constructs a world unlike any I have ever known.

Some of her stories have a hazy, murky, magically dreamlike quality to them. I likened them to "a fever dream" - dreams that are at once terrifying and surreal and make sense as you're dreaming them, but quickly evaporate into inexplicable, confusing, disjointed stories as you attempt to describe them upon waking. These stories always left me frustrated. The more I tried to make sense of them, the more I felt the meaning slip away.

Others softly simmered over religious undertones. Stories like "Flood #2" which finds Noah old and defeated at a bar as he explains to the bartender that "the rain just kept coming..It became difficult to gather them two by two". And "Flood #3" where Noah would awaken from nightmares of a great flood which prompted him to construct an Ark he never had to use. These stories were my favorite. I really enjoyed her visions of Adam and Eve, Noah and his Ark, and the peacefulness that lived within those tales.

The stories are broken up into chapters that serve as a sort of explanation or description of the stories you will find there. The chapter titled "We" contains a cute story of the young couple as they make intricate plans on where to meet up should they become separated out in the world. In the "Wife" chapters, we learn of a couple who must store their pet birds in their freezer as they begin to die off. "Regime" contains a story where the town decreed that hanging out laundry to dry is no longer allowed. Yet an old woman who lives near our married couple continues to hang hers out, and while the sirens ring down the street, everyone admires her clothesline, looking for clues.

The overall construction of the collection is impressive. Phillips mentioned in our discussion that the NYC publishers declined picking up the collection due to it's inability to be categorized - it fails to fit neatly into a genre. Though that was not an issue for Leapfrog Press, an indie publisher who continues to release top quality fiction. They have quite an eye for storytelling and the chances they take always seem to pay off!

This book will not work for everyone. Fans of Blake Butler will appreciate Helen Phillips's creative spin on storytelling. These are stories that, though they are incredibly short, force the reader to think about what it is they are reading. This book does not promise a happy ending - or any sort of ending, really. It can be read cover to cover, story to story or you can skip around and "dip" into different sections. In fact, Helen mentioned in the discussion that one of her readers tackled the collection by reading all the short stories that were numbered #1 first, then #2 second....

If you are ready to experience short stories in a format unlike any other, I encourage you to seek out And Yet They Were Happy.

Enjoy the book trailer while you think about it:


  1. I love the trailer!! It goes so perfectly with the book!!!
    Wonderful review! It summed it up wonderfully!
    Shannon Johnson

  2. This is a very interesting book. The fantasy-like scenes in every chapter of the book brings in a new, bizzare, yet intriguing point of view that you will just feel captivated by Helen Philips imagination.