Praise for Happy Now?
...[an] accomplished, moving first novel...The author...traces Claire’s odyssey from grief, guilt and rage to acceptance with such honesty and empathy, leavened by startling but bracing humor, that we hope for the best for her appealing protagonist—and for more novels from this talented writer.
Wendy Smith, the Chicago Tribune
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What drives the story is the mystery of character... Happy Now? becomes a dark thriller as Claire, ready to face the truth, pursues it with desperation.
the New York Times, Editor’s Choice
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...Shonk’s...distinctive voice — the ironic, self-mocking sense of humor, the flair for capturing the ache of imperfect romantic love, the observation of quirky behavioral details, the starchy appraisal of flawed character, the telling sense of family dynamics — is once again on display.
On the surface, [the] story might seem like fodder for a Lifetime television network drama or a women’s magazine story. But Shonk (the sort of writer Saul Bellow might have dubbed “a first-class noticer”) makes gold of it — invariably stripping away sentimentality and replacing it with the mix of caustic intelligence and biting wit of someone who feels things deeply but never loses the ability to step back a bit and see the dysfunctional theater of it all.
Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times
Katherine Shonk’s absorbing debut novel, Happy Now?, opens in the bleak aftermath of this tragedy, and painstakingly captures the surreal rhythms and routines of dealing with a sudden loss. ...With grace (and graciousness), Shonk shows us a relationship that, while full of love, could never have been enough for one of the people in it. ...Happy Now? is a raw, lucid portrait of a life just after it’s been shattered, as it begins to take on a new shape.
Eryn Loeb, Time Out New York
Anyone who has passed up a popcorn car-chase flick in favor of a good indie knows how powerful a simple, skillfully told, character-driven story can be. Katherine Shonk does, and Happy Now? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), her first novel, is proof. Shonk's incisive writing feels effortless, at times stealthy. She's so economical in her descriptions—of a character's mannerisms, clothes, psyche—that she can evoke a resonant image in the space of a sentence.
Rachel Rosenblit, ELLE magazine
Both tear-jerking and laugh-out-loud funny, [Happy Now?] will have readers rooting for its brave heroine and hoping that, indeed, she will one day be happy again.
Carefully configured with telling details, Shonk’s brooding yet wryly witty drama is a revealing tale of family ties, love gone awry, and the wintry season of grief.
Donna Seaman, Booklist
With gentle humor and a complex heroine, Shonk’s (The Red Passport, 2003) confident first novel uses a light hand to sketch out some dark truths. Sensitive and engrossing portrayal of the grieving process that never resorts to cliché.
In Claire Kessler, Shonk has managed to create a wonderfully realistic character and a story poignant and witty rather than melancholy and dark.
Praise for The Red Passport
The people in The Red Passport, Katherine Shonk's collection of stories about life in post-Soviet society, can be roughly divided between real Russians and those who wish they were; natives trying to get out; well-meaning Americans trying to fit in; and some older types still trying to wake from the nightmare of the New World Order... Shonk sees these and other varied perestroikans with an eye both rueful and ruthless, sympathetic to their dreams even as she sees through them. She writes with the comfortable sense of one who has not only been there but taken a good look around.
the New York Times
At times throughout these stories, Shonk's narratives sound like a translation of Russian literature, or triumphs of Slavic ventriloquism—not just because of shocking, Babel-like comparisons, but also the occasional Chekhovian quiet gesture... and the depiction of a Nabokovian character... The Red Passport—full of all sorts of precarious mixings of horror and comedy, Russians and Americans, saviors and terrorists, disappointments and hopes—is a fine debut collection of tales told in a new, clear voice.
the Chicago Tribune
The Red Passport is a wonderful first collection of short stories, by the American writer Katherine Shonk, set in present-day Russia... Satire contends with clear-eyed pity in these brief chronicles of human fallibility... Shonk writes with a native English speaker's aplomb (and literary inheritance), but her detailed knowledge of the Russian settings and character suggest a Russian upbringing. Whatever the explanation, it cannot detract from the pleasures and insights of these shapely stories with their shared note of rueful humour.
Times Literary Supplement
[Shonk] is disarmingly deft at getting into the heads of her Russian characters... Whether you are American or Russian... you must read these stories or have them read to you.
Los Angeles Times
...stark and magnificent... These stories offer more than just impressively detailed political and social commentary; at the heart of each is a real, human character in difficult, complex relationships... Shonk's sentences stand sturdy and unglossed, a style not so minimalist as to be meaningless, but whose truths and descriptions affect us without help from overwrought prose. Despite their brevity, each of these eight stories is epic in detail and emotional depth, leaving us eager for the author's next effort.
In this promising debut collection set primarily in post-Communist Russia, expatriates and natives alike endeavor to make their way in a new social and economic landscape, often sharing an intense desire for whatever the other possesses: money, freedom, love, family... That tension lends these stories an impressive vitality.
...important stories, at once timeless and searingly of the moment...
The Red Passport is an admirable first collection that looks modest but thinks big, turning intimate scenes between Russians and Americans into snapshots of cross-cultural confusion in this strange new global era... Shonk's characters may not always share the same mother tongue, but they speak the same language because of a rare and fleeting empathy that sets aside their disparate pasts and diverging futures.
The Moscow Times