Perfect Happiness by Kristyn Kusek Lewis
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.3 MB
From the beloved author of Half of What You Hear, a perceptive and poignant novel about a woman discovering that her expertise can only get her so far in matters of the heart.
Charlotte McGanley knows happiness. Just ask anyone who’s read Perfect Happiness, her bestselling book about how she, a busy mother and professor, used her no-nonsense positive psychology research to brighten her own life. She always pictured her career beginning and ending in the halls of academia, but now she’s become a bit of a self-help guru. No one is more surprised by this than Charlotte herself, who has secretly never been more miserable.
Though her husband of many years, Jason, is her partner in all things, she finds more gratification most evenings in a glass (or three) of Chardonnay or another scroll through her Instagram feed. Meanwhile, their daughter, Birdie, is feeling the pressure of being her high school’s star tennis player, keeping up her GPA, and having her first boyfriend—and Charlotte, despite all her expertise, has no idea how to help her.
As Charlotte preaches the gospel of happiness to her undergraduate students, audiences across the country, and her own online followers, she’s faced with some tough questions: What is happiness when the family you’ve nurtured starts to fall apart in front of your eyes? When your daughter seems determined to self-destruct? When the man you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with—and took for granted because of it—gets fed up? When all of the tools that you push to your loyal followers just don’t seem to work?
In this bittersweet family love story, Kristyn Kusek Lewis explores how easy it is to lose connection with the people closest to us, and what happens when we try to find our way back.
Hearing the rustling again, she takes a last gulp of lukewarm coffee (from a mug with “Do more of what makes you happy” printed on its side), and stands, determined to find the cause. When she steps off the porch, the wet grass tickles her feet, dampening her slippers, and she reconsiders for a moment, glancing toward Mr. Marchetto’s house, where she can see her neighbor in his open window preparing breakfast. But that sound . . .
It’s almost like cellophane crinkling, but there’s a chirpy squeaking, too. Maybe chipmunks? She’s used to spotting all sorts of animals in her yard. People back home in Georgia can’t believe her when she tells them, but even though she’s barely five miles from the DC line, she frequently sees deer, raccoons, and families of foxes frolicking in the grass. Mr. Marchetto even saw a coyote in their driveway once. The wildlife tortures Sylvie, their elderly golden retriever, and Charlotte’s relieved that the dog is still inside, having taken over her spot in the bed the minute Charlotte got up.
Once upon a time, they wouldn’t have let Sylvie on the bed, and for a while, she was banned from the room, due to her tendency to sit right beside the bed while they were having sex, watching them so intently that it was like she was a judge on one of those TV dance competitions. But now, it seems like a moot point. The last time they had sex was seven months ago, and even then, it felt more like an obligation because it was Jason’s birthday. Over seven months, Jason had said last night, when she pushed his hand off her hip. I’m too tired, she said. I had too much wine. She turned off the lights and they turned their backs to each other, and in the tense awful dark, she reached out for him, feeling guilty. She’s told him that it bothers her, too, how they never even try anymore, but that’s a bit of a lie, because while she misses the closeness they once shared, and the intimacy that was more than just physical, not having sex actually feels like a tremendous relief, one less thing on her to-do list. He didn’t respond to her hand on his shoulder blade last night, her half-attempt at an apology. She turned back over. She went to sleep.
The sound, Charlotte realizes as she makes her way through the damp yard, is coming from the other side of the deck. She crouches, taking tentative steps, remembering the time years ago when they were having dinner on the porch and watched a fox snag a squirrel right off the trunk of one of the oak trees. Or the time when Jason, digging ivy out of the flower beds, discovered a copperhead coiled just feet from where Birdie had been jumping rope less than an hour before. Charlotte begged him to call animal control, but he refused, instead insisting that the best thing was to just leave it be and let it go on its way. “I’m a keeper at the National Zoo,” he’d said, laughing as he followed her into the house. “You really think I’m going to call the morons at animal control?”