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My Happy Life Paperback – April 4, 2007

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Editorial Reviews Review

The unreliable narrator tends to get a bum rap for committing a multitude of sins against trusting readers. But what happens when the narrator is impaired? In Lydia Millet's My Happy Life, a nameless woman with a mental deficiency is locked inside an abandoned asylum. To pass the time between staying alive and attempting escape, she scribbles her life story on the walls that separate her from the rest of the world.

In childhood she catapults from one charitable home to another, abused by fellow residents and schoolmates, and eventually winds up sleeping on park benches. As a young woman she falls prey to a sadistic wealthy patron who kidnaps her. With graceful and often poetic simplicity, Millet thrusts us into the childlike mind of a person who has a limited ability to make herself understood in an unforgiving world. This woman's story--covering decades and spanning continents--is utterly tragic, yet her capacity for joy shines throughout. It's quite an about-face from Millet's last novel, the silly and satirical George Bush, Dark Prince of Love. Despite its many abstractions (Where are we? How much time has passed?), the book flows easily and doesn't step outside this determined, faithful woman's story for a second. Her character may not have a name, but readers will ultimately trust her--in happiness and in sorrow. --Emily Russin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Occasionally a book comes along that is truly written (as writers are instructed books should be) as if it were the writer's last: Millet's sad and infinitely touching third novel (after the absurdist George Bush, Dark Prince of Love) is such an extraordinary work. Brief and unsparingly forthright, the story is told from the miraculously cheerful perspective of a battered, neglected, friendless woman who is locked inside a windowless madhouse cell. The institution is apparently scheduled for demolition; the narrator's last caretaker, Jim, has not returned to feed her in some time. All she possesses are a few broken-down items she carries with her everywhere and that tell her "happy life" story: a cardboard box labeled Brown Ladies Narrow 8, in which she was left at a foundling home as an infant; a broken tooth from habitual pummelings she incurred as a "meat sandwich" at the hands of her fellow orphans; a frayed orange towel she used to sleep in, in parks; and, most horribly, a torn corner of one of the bills that were left to her by a rich older man who locked her away, beat her regularly with a "historical instrument" and later stole her baby. Despite the ghastly physical scars the narrator bears from neglect and abuse at others' hands, she remains a na‹f at heart, prone to forgive human harshness as people's inability "to know their own strength." Most incredibly, Millet has managed a few light-handed, affecting strokes to give her narrator charm and even humor ("Excuse me," she says when brutally overcome). The details of her fabulous, tortured life are precise and quirky, and she is always allowed to tell her story in her own childlike way to startling ironic effect in a novel that stands as a courageous and memorable achievement. (Jan. 9)Forecast: Millet's satirical voice is distinctive, but her work tends to resist easy classification. This novel represents a definite leap for her, and should raise her profile, though it is probably too grim to appeal to a truly wide audience.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press (April 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933368764
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933368764
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,194,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lydia Millet is a novelist and short-story writer known for her dark humor, idiosyncratic characters and language, and strong interest in the relationship between humans and other animals. Born in Boston, she grew up in Toronto and now lives outside Tucson, Arizona with her two children, where she writes and works in wildlife conservation. Sometimes called a "novelist of ideas," Millet won the PEN-USA award for fiction for her early novel My Happy Life (2002); in 2010, her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2008, 2011, and 2012 she published three novels in a critically acclaimed series about extinction and personal loss: How the Dead Dream, Ghost Lights, and Magnificence. June 2014 will see the publication of her first book for young-adult readers, Pills and Starships -- an apocalyptic tale of death contracts and climate change set in the ruins of Hawaii.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By MICHAEL ACUNA on January 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"I have always wished the present to resemble memory: because the present can be flat at times, and bald as a road. But memory is never like that. It makes hills of feeling in collapsed hours, a scene of enclosure made all precious by its frame."
It is the Narrator (never identified) who makes the comment above in Lydia Millet's, "My Happy Life," a woman who has had almost no real happiness in her life and who always recovers from whatever blows and misfortunes life deals her without any ill feelings or rancor. She is resilient to a fault..always looking on the bright side, always making excuses for those who mistreat her.
We all know this woman. She's the one who cleans our hotel rooms or offices. She's the one with the bad haircut and out-of-style coat whose smile we do not return on the street. She's the one we hope never to become.
But Millet makes her a heroine with a profound sense of insight and razor sharp introspection...a kind of life experience idiot savant. And in the end....we, at the very least, admire her and maybe even secretly want to be her.
The Narrator takes us to her bosom early on when she says: "so now I seem alone...But I am not alone...I have You." And that she does through 150 pages of heart-wrenching bad luck and unspeakable misfortune. But nonetheless, the tone of the novel is sweet with the fragrance of a life fondly remembered.
Our Narrator is "Everywoman" and by extension Everyman: exploited, abandoned, discarded, imprisoned, rejected, made invisible by age. Millet seems to be saying: Look at this woman, Look at this Life, Look how she recovers and perserveres... Don't complain to me about your petty upsets and daily trials and tribulations! Here is how it is in the extreme...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Schtinky VINE VOICE on January 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
'My Happy Life' is about a life that has been anything but happy, but our nameless protagonist doesn't see it that way. When a State Hospital for the mentally ill is shut down, our nameless protagonist is left behind, forgotten, in a locked isolation cell.

She begins to write her story on the wall, talking to you as if you were there with her, and her story will stab at your heart even if it is a black shriveled heart. It will bleed for her, trust me.

Left as a newborn in a shoebox near an orphanage, she has never known anything other than state homes and the occasional foster home. Our protagonist comes across as being mentally slow, which may explain her ability to retain her innocence through constant physical and emotional abuse, even turning such abuse into what she feels is a caring connection with others. She simply does not see the bad in anybody.

From state homes to being kept at the mercy of an abuser, who gets her pregnant and then runs off with her baby, our protagonist somehow survives ever mean and vile dish that is handed to her, seeing only nourishment on silver platters.

The tale of her life is sad, poignant, beautiful, upsetting, dramatic, and tender. Millet's prose is stylish, rich, and smacks of true poetic talent. She pulls you into her characters life so quickly and completely that you will not be able to put the book down once you start. Don't worry, its only 150 pages, but the impact it will leave on your is far greater than the thickness of the book.

This is my first Lydia Millet book, and I am definitely buying more of her work. I consider 'My Happy Life' a must read, something for you to think about when you believe your life has gone all wrong because your DVD player broke and your Mercedes has a flat. Truly, a ten star book. Enjoy!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pamela A. Poddany VINE VOICE on November 21, 2012
Format: Paperback

This is a short 150 page book that speaks volumes. I have never read a book quite like this one and cherished each and every word.

We meet our narrator, a girl of no name, who finds the good in everyone and everything. Her life? Her life is horrible, but you would never know it. This special person finds beauty, redemption, and kindness constantly. You think you have problems? This girl started her life in a shoe box left on a street to be found on a rainy and cold morning. She is moved from orphanage to foster home, from one set of dire circumstances to another, all the time being abused emotionally, physically, and mentally. She is beaten, she is raped, she is degraded, yet, yet, she is happy, content, apologetic to others for THEIR unkindness and faults.

Perhaps this special lady is so forgiving and happy due to mental problems, but does she have mental problems? Is she stuck in a world where she is constantly the victim and gets labeled as a mentally ill person? Travel through her 'happy' life as she stumbles through her days/weeks/years, living in different homes, with different people and finally ending up forgotten, abandoned, and alone in a locked room in a mental facility. And yet, still, she is not bitter or upset, but deals with what life has dealt her.

Lydia Millet writes like nobody I have ever read. Her words flow, shimmer, shine, bring a person to tears. Her prose is beautiful and full of wonder. For example -- "The door is locked from the outside; they went away and forgot me. It is not difficult: many times I have almost forgotten myself." Or -- "It is hard to say what Brother ever made of me, but I made a galaxy out of him. And all the lonely stars spiraled toward the center, glowing.
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