(In which happy endings are relative.)
How many times have we met intelligent, idealistic people searching for the one in their relentless pursuit of happiness? And either we lost track of their story or stopped caring altogether to find out how their conquest concluded. Or sometimes we just let our pessimism take over and knew exactly what will happen to them in the end. Sounds classic.
How about the classic happiness-related opening of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina? “Happy families are all alike. Unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.”
Well, this is what Tracy Faber, a literature professor, wants to disprove in Rachel Kadish’s intellectually satisfying novel. Believing that Tolstoy has made a rather harsh generalization about happiness (making all those who blindly quote the Russian literary giant blind and unthinking), Tracy starts out a research project showing how literature unfairly treats happiness. She believes that it is ironic that writers want their characters to be happy, vindicated and satisfied, yet happiness never happens at the start of stories or even in the middle (true happiness, at least) but when happiness truly shows itself it means that the story has come to an end. Nobody celebrates happiness the way it deserves to be celebrated and it is simply not right.
But don’t think that Tracy is the epitome of happiness. With a failure of a relationship and numerous Valentine’s spent watching couples wait for each other and fight at coffee shops, who can say she’s completely happy? She said she’s happy about her profession and her books, though (which I totally agree to, but have I already said that that doesn’t make anybody completely happy?)
So when she stumbles upon dashing and smart Canadian George in a restaurant, she knew she was undone. Giggling like a high school girl over a telephone conversation when he said, “I have to ask the Canadian embassy if there are federal laws restricting me to give my heart to an American” (Honestly, that made me giggle too.), she let herself fall to a relationship she knows she deserves to be in. Everything was quite fine. Students and faculty members in the university she was working in notice the change in her that could only be caused by love. She was happy and she knows it. Until George proposes months after.
Being a person who likes to plan things out, she was horrifies with all the sudden preparation she has to endure before marriage. And on top of that, politics in the university circulating her and her thesis advisee, as well as her tenureship packet seem all too much to bear. In this difficult balancing act, what’s at stake is her professional future as well as her future with George.
Poignant and literarily heavy, Rachel Kadish brings to a life a character all literature practitioner and enthusiast should meet. The objective is not only to relive our Melville and Hawthorne and Tolstoy experiences but to find whether happiness is as unique as the lack of it, as well as the sacrifices we have to take in order to find it.