Summary and book reviews of Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain by Lucia Perillo

Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain

Stories

By Lucia Perillo

Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain
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  • Hardcover: May 2012,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: May 2013,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

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?

BAD BOY NUMBER SEVENTEEN

Don’t tell me about bad boys. I’ve seen my black clouds come and go. Coming they walk with their shoulders back like they’ve got a raw egg tucked inside each armpit, and they let their legs lead them. Going, you can count on the fact that their butts will cast no shadow on those lean long legs. You can’t compete in the arena of squalid romance if you’re one of those guys shaped in the rear like a leather mail sack: you’re automatically disqualified. That’s just the way it is. I didn’t make the rules.

My prodigals make up for slender means by wearing their jeans tight enough so that their billfolds have a hard time sliding in. And they make up for the fact they’re usually kind of stupid by not saying much. This is important. This is the litmus test. The last thing you want is a desperado with a big mouth; you might as well invite a wild elephant home for dinner.

See, for years I have done some serious ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Lucia Perillo has previously published over half a dozen books of poetry; no surprise, considering this book is full of stories short on words and long on nuance. She seems to come to no conclusions on what the human condition is, or what it means. At the same time, she presents all kinds of evidence that every one of us is inept and needy, yet wonderful in spite of ourselves. This is a book to make us feel better about our shortcomings - even in the deepest despair there is hope.   (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Tom Perrotta
Lucia Perillo isn't just a strikingly original poet; she's a top-notch fiction writer as well. The stories in this bleakly funny and harrowing collection are reminiscent of both Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, but the vision than animates them is Perillo's own, unique and unmistakable.

Library Journal

A memorable collection.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This volume's vibrant stories demonstrate the full potential of the short story form when put in the hands of a true artist.

Kirkus Reviews

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

New York Times Book Review

Happiness is full of straightforward sentences in straightforward narratives, as you might expect from someone who understands the mechanics of storytelling but hasn’t yet written much fiction.

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Gifford Pinchot National Forest

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is featured in a few of the stories in Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain. Several characters maintain trails and clear brush, and these serve as interesting metaphors for dealing with life's hurdles. But of course, a national park is more than just a metaphor.

Mount St HelensNamed for the first Chief Forester of the U.S. Forest Service, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is located in the Cascade mountain range in Southwestern Washington State. It has gone through several name changes, but was first set aside in 1897 and is therefore one of the oldest national forests in the United States. It currently encompasses 1.3 million acres ­ which now includes the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic ...

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