Friday, September 23, 2011

Fiction: Happiness Economics by Shari Lapeña

Though Shari Lapeña (Things Go Flying) borrows the title for her second novel, the economics of happiness is a real and growing field. From Wikipedia:
Happiness economics is the quantitative study of happiness, positive and negative affect, well-being, quality of life, life satisfaction and related concepts, typically combining economics with other fields such as psychology and sociology. It typically treats such happiness-related measures, rather than wealth, income or profit, as something to be maximized.
In Lapeña’s Happiness Economics (Brindle & Glass) a “first-rate” but struggling poet of middle years looks closely at his life. He swapped his potential career as an academic for raising the kids house husband-style, a move his wife now regrets. She had thought that poetry was a passing passion for him when they were both young intellectuals. In college, his “wanting to write poetry someday had seemed like an attractive, even romantic, character trait.” All these later, she does not think so, even though she thinks that “they might have had a happy marriage if Will had make a name for himself as a poet,” or, she concedes, if he’d been too busy growing his own magnificent career to become a successful poet. But he did neither of these things: he stayed home with their children and though she thinks he did a very good job raising them, now that they're nearly grown, she worries about the things he did not do.

In his own way, Will worries, too. Until he meets his muse at a poetry reading: Lily White. “Long, youthful body, long youthful hair; billowy, undisciplined words from seductive lips -- her poetry was awful, but she -- she was perfect.”

In truth, he does not so much meet Lily as rescue her, or try to. And the act -- and in some ways the woman -- begins to change his mind and his life.

Happiness Economics is an enjoyable and thoughtful journey. It muses on the nature of art and commerce; love and romance; marriage and aging, not to mention parenthood: Lapeña looks at the big questions our culture burdens itself with and somehow transforms it all into a deliciously likable romp. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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