From a Review of the book Writers & Lovers: “Happiness Writes in White Ink on a White Page”

From a New York Times review, by John Williams, of the book Writers &Lovers by Lily King:

Everyone wants to be happy, but what serious reader wants to read about happiness? The French author Henry de Montherlant said that “happiness writes in white ink on a white page.” It can’t be captured; not with dignity, anyway. Happy art so often equals kitsch. The poet Edward Hirsch, in response to Montherlant’s edict, once wrote: “I don’t believe that only sorrow/and misery can be written.”

The novelist Lily King must be in Hirsch’s camp. Her new book, “Writers & Lovers,” set in 1997, begins in mourning and frustration, but it more or less persuasively opens out to genuine, even giddy, hope.

Its narrator, Casey Peabody, is a 31-year-old who bikes three miles to and from work as a waitress in Harvard Square. She lives in a small room—a former potting shed that still smells like “loam and rotting leaves”—attached to the garage of a friend of her brother’s. In opening lines that are both breezy and potent, Casey says: “I have a pact with myself not to think about money in the morning. I’m like a teenager trying not to think about sex. But I’m also trying not to think about sex.”

So, problems with cash flow and love life. The two other most salient facts about Casey, she soon reveals, are that she is an aspiring writer and that her mother has recently died. Years earlier, including time spent in an M.F.A. program, Casey had a cohort of wannabe writer friends, but they’ve all abandoned the craft, except for one woman who has been “working on a novel set during World War II for as long as I’ve known her.” . . .

In a delightful, very brief section on famous writers’ relationships to their dead mothers, Casey tells us that when Edith Wharton’s mother, who had discouraged her daughter’s writing (and even reading), died, Wharton “sent her husband to the funeral. She stayed home to write.” Men are included in that section (Proust, D. H. Lawrence), but that Wharton tidbit chimes loudest with King’s project here. . . .

Things really fall into place for Casey as the novel draws to a close—in a pretty heavy-handed avalanche, actually. But King is too smart to send a character riding off into the sunset. She simply leaves Casey in a very promising place, no more or less precarious than she had been when things were bad and could turn good. She leaves her savoring the newly secure things in her life that “might just last.”

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