cover image There Is Happiness

There Is Happiness

Brad Watson. Norton, $29.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-324-07642-1

This vibrant collection of new and selected works from Watson, who died in 2020, showcases the author’s wry humor and taste for the bizarre. “Dying for Dolly” follows an ex-con who releases a novelty song about Dolly Parton and scores a spot opening for the singer. “The Zookeeper and the Leopard” concerns a zoo manager who sets a leopard free to antagonize the town’s chief animal control officer, whom he suspects of sleeping with his wife. Both stories draw sharp portraits of men in over their heads, while “Eykelboom,” written in third-person plural from the perspective of a close-knit Southern town, depicts the travails of a boy who moves there from “some crude and faceless Yankee state” and struggles to fit in. The title story begins in the register of a clinical report on a family’s car accident, which killed the father and maimed the teenage daughter, before swerving into an intriguing stew of gossip and speculation about the fate of the mother, who disappeared from the scene of the crash and may have been driving. In “Terrible Argument,” previously collected in Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, a couple’s pet dog observes their incessant bickering. This accomplished volume puts Watson’s impressive tonal and stylistic range on full display. It’s sure to satisfy fans and newcomers alike. (July)