Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain: Stories (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Bookseller: Eric
Title: Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain


Imagine if Hank Williams, or Lucinda Williams, or Steve earle wrote fiction- as in, book ficiton- well, these could be their stories.

And this is Lucia Perillo's first book of non-poetry!

In these 14 tales, low clouds hang over dubious characters who again and again make terrible decisions. And that's why it's so entertaining.

But darn it, the book is going out of print, so grab it while you can!!

— From Eric


A stunning debut from an award-winning poet.

Populating a small town in the Pacific Northwest, the characters in Lucia Perillo’s story collection all resist giving the world what it expects of them and are surprised when the world comes roaring back.

An addict trapped in a country house becomes obsessed with vacuum cleaners and the people who sell them door-to-door. An abandoned woman seeks consolation in tales of armed robbery told by one of her fellow suburban housewives. An accidental mother struggles to answer her daughter’s badgering about her paternity. And in three stories readers meet Louisa, a woman with Down syndrome who serves as an accomplice to her younger sister’s sexual exploits and her aging mother’s fantasies of revenge.

Together, Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain is a sharp-edged, witty testament to the ambivalence of emotions, the way they pull in directions that often cancel one another out or twist their subjects into knots. In lyrical prose, Perillo draws on her training as a naturalist and a poet to map the terrain of the comic and the tragic, asking how we draw the boundaries between these two zones. What’s funny, what’s heartbreaking, and who gets to decide?

About the Author

Lucia Perillo (1958—2016) was the author of seven books of poetry, one of which, Inseminating the Elephant, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She was also awarded a MacArthur genius grant.

Praise For…

Relentlessly compassionate, this is a collection for the mistake makers and trying-as-hard-as-we-canners of the world—which probably means all of us.
— Book of the Week Pick

Darned if this book isn’t more cheerful than anything else. It’s very funny and often beautiful, though not in the corny way of fiction that glorifies bad behavior or romanticizes hardship. It’s deeper than that, in the way that earned wisdom always is. . . . [Perillo] brings to these stories the poet’s gift for creating images in the mind so apt, they’re surprising, even funny.

Starred review. Emotionally unflinching stories of considerable power, wonder and humor.

Starred review. [Perillo] strikes a glorious balance between wryly intelligent prose and emotional force, recalling Alice Munro at her best.

Starred review. These tales are as beautifully patterned as poetry, saturated in feeling, open to ambiguity, and laced with electrifying images.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393345469
ISBN-10: 0393345467
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: May 20th, 2013
Pages: 224
Language: English