Monday, March 29, 2010

Reader's Diary #595- Joe Dunthorne: You are happy


You have no idea how excited I was to come across this week's short story.

On Saturday I was going through the CBC's arts page and read that Christian Karlson Stead of New Zealand was the winner of the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award. Who? Where? What?

Okay, so I know where New Zealand is. But I've not heard of the others.

Christian Karlson Stead, or C.K. Stead, is a novelist, a poet, literary critic and a short story writer. He is also a professor at the University of Auckland. It was his short story "Last Season's Man" that won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award.

The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award, besides being the worst named literary award, is also the most valuable short story award in the world, valued at about $38,000 Canadian.

But this post isn't about Stead. I knew it was a long shot, but I went looking for "Last Season's Man" free online. No luck. Maybe something else by Stead? Nope. How about the runner up stories? Nothing. But, finally, I found another story by one of the runner up authors: Joe Dunthorne.

While it may not have been my 1st choice to read, or even my 7th, I am more than pleased with my discovery: Joe Dunthorne's "You are happy."

Last week I wrote about how Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates was written in the second person, and how it felt like old Choose Your Own Adventure novels, without the choice. It's a rare thing to find this perspective, and I found it refreshing. I didn't say so at the time, but I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a child. No, they weren't winning any Newbery Medals, but it was fun to interact with these stories and to believe I was in control. I've secretly hoped to find adult versions of these books, better yet if they're written by critically acclaimed authors. Finally I have my wish.

Joe Dunthorne's "You Are Happy" is a fun and smart story (actually it's a few stories) that use the Choose Your Own Adventure format. The form typically and inadvertently plays with the idea of fate versus choice, but I think Dunthorne sides more with fate. Just a warning, most endings (yes, I've gone back and picked different choices-- that's half the fun), end with various sex scenes, some of which are more graphic than others, so you might want to be careful where you read it.

There are two kinds of choices Dunthorne presents you with: character choice and author choice. Do you eat a green or a black olive? Are you a male or a female?

Depending on the choices you make, I think some stories work better than others, but the underlying theme is about, as the title suggests, happiness. The opening scene is idyllic except for a nagging concern about skin cancer. Is happiness fragile or does it depend on the choices you make? You decide.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Margot said...

This post was educational. I didn't know there were prizes for short stories and I'd never heard of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Now I'm curious about all of this.

I have a Short Story Monday post too this week. You can find it here.

Kinna Reads said...

I will have to read this story. And you've introduced a new sthort story award to follow. Thank you. I reviewed a collection today on my blog.

Teddy Rose said...

I never heard of choose your own adventure before. It sounds really interesting. It must be fun for a writer to be able to present different scenarios.

I didn't have time to do a short this week.