Hap­py for You

  • Review
By – February 7, 2022

In Claire Stanford’s poignant, wry debut nov­el, Hap­py For You, the pro­tag­o­nist Eve­lyn Komin­sky Kumamo­to acknowl­edges that she doesn’t feel like a real per­son.” At thir­ty-one years old, and four years into a phi­los­o­phy PhD, she is ambiva­lent about what she wants, who she is, and how tech­nol­o­gy func­tions in our soci­ety. She feels like she’s on the out­side, look­ing in at every­one else, who all seem to have it fig­ured out.

Eve­lyn has a few rea­sons for feel­ing iso­lat­ed from oth­ers: her moth­er died when she was four­teen, and her rela­tion­ship with her father is for­mal and dis­tant. She works at a tech com­pa­ny in the Bay Area and, as a philoso­pher, strug­gles with their goals of fit­ting human emo­tion into a sim­ple well­ness app. She is Japan­ese and Jew­ish and doesn’t know where she fits into either culture.

The nov­el begins when Eve­lyn takes a break from her phi­los­o­phy dis­ser­ta­tion to work for the third-most-pop­u­lar inter­net com­pa­ny.” Eve­lyn appre­ci­ates the high salary but com­mits the Sil­i­con Val­ley offense of ques­tion­ing the ethics of the app. The app works by ping­ing prob­ing ques­tions to her phone every day or so. Answer­ing them is sup­posed to increase hap­pi­ness. Eve­lyn is skep­ti­cal but tries to use the app to become hap­pi­er. Of course, life has oth­er ways of pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for Eve­lyn to be hap­py — and sad, dis­turbed, and present, and every­thing else, some­times all at once.

Through the clever plot twists in Hap­py For You, Eve­lyn comes to under­stand that she’s not alone. Despite her angst, she is obser­vant, fun­ny, and lov­ing. It is a joy to watch her with her some­what clue­less boyfriend, Jamie, in moments of intense vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and hope; to accom­pa­ny her in mem­o­ries of her moth­er; and to halt­ing­ly grow clos­er to her father as he embarks on a new rela­tion­ship with Kumiko, who just can’t quite believe that Eve­lyn does­n’t speak Japanese.

The bril­liance of Hap­py For You is in how it man­ages to con­vey many emo­tions and many lessons. As a satir­i­cal nov­el about tech cul­ture, it’s unset­tling and com­ic. As a nov­el of Evelyn’s growth, it’s both iron­i­cal­ly removed and warm­ly inti­mate. It has, as a char­ac­ter says late in the sto­ry, hybrid vig­or,” and it will keep you read­ing, laugh­ing, cry­ing, and hop­ing late into the night.

Jessie Szalay’s writ­ing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Aspara­gus, The For­ward, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­el­er, and as a notable in the Best Amer­i­can Essays of 2017. She lives in Salt Lake City where she teach­es writ­ing in a prison edu­ca­tion program.

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