Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Trails to You

My husband found a copy of Julie Hecht’s Happy Trails to You at the library. He has an eagle eye, and since I had read no reviews of this, I’m grateful that he found it.

“Isn’t she one of your writers?”

I don’t patronize the library much because of its post-five-year-discard policy (who gets those books?) and shady goings-on (losing its accreditation one year and subsequent financial scandals). I go there when I'm looking for old Gothic novels (a defiant, nostalgic librarian has saved the Mary Stewart books). Occasionally I do miss out on a new book.

Julie Hecht’s short stories have been published in The New Yorker. This collection of droll short stories is narrated by an eccentric leftist vegan photographer who adores Paul McCartney and despises Republicans (especially the one she refers to as the "Alfred E. Neuman president"). Hecht's two previous books, a collection of short stories, Do the Windows Open?, and a novel, The Unprofessionals, are about the same obsessive heroine. Parts read like absurd stand-up comedy.

The deadpan, hilarious narrator is always musing about the end of civilization. She despairs of young people who don't know enough about Elvis and President Kennedy; criticizes the hideous “prostitute fashions” of the 21st century; consults and recommends Dr. Weil’s web site for every health problem; and punches the ATM buttons with the corner of her debit card because of germs.

In my favorite story, “Being and Nothingness,” the narrator spends the summer of 1998 in Nantucket photographing the light, but also compulsively watching the Bill and Monica debates on Geraldo and CNN. Although she rages at the Republicans, she strives to find balance in yoga and Emerson. But it's not just Kenneth Starr's persecution/prosecution of Clinton that bothers her. At the organic food store, she attempts to teach the fruit manager the objective case when the fruit manager says “between you and I.”

“Jim and me,” I said. “Object of a preposition.”

“Really? It sounds wrong. ‘Jim and me.’”

“‘Between Jim and me.’ ‘Between us,’” I said. “‘Between them.’”

I remembered the host--if such a man could be called a “host”--of the cable show Hardball, saying, “A picture of my wife and I.” Can you call in to these Republican supporters about the grammatical errors?...

Although Hecht's narrator has immigrant servants who baffle her and paradoxically goes quasi-Republican in her belief they should speak English in "the workplace" (a phrase she hates), I enjoy this character very much. I agree with her about the objective case. I wince every time I hear "between you and I."

This is a very entertaining book. Actually, the whole set would be a good Christmas gift. I feel a Julie Hecht revival coming on and am going to reread them all. But I wish she would name her narrator.


Ellen said...

The book sounds like Jane Smiley in some of her more modern-like novels, like the recent one which imitated Boccaccio, Hollywood style.


Frisbee said...

It's much different: I didn't tell enough. The writing is much more elliptical than Smiley's and there's only one point of view. It's also very, very funny! She fantasizes about Paul McCartney, doesn't know him. AndI loved reading about a liberal. The only time the narrator's real contradictions manifest themselves are in her dealings with immigrants: her Jamaican maid heats up meat in the narrator's vegan kitchen and insists on wearing slutty off-the-shoulder sweaters (there are arguments about this), and the Bulgarians working at the store are rude to her and won't speak English (the narrator complains to the pharmacist about them). Hecht is aware of the humor of the contradictions wrought by class, if the narrator is not!