The women in the 11 stories that make up "Single, Carefree, Mellow," the debut collection by Katherine Heiny, are of various ages and are involved with various men. They are also in various states of learning the same truth. None of the women really wants to be any of the things mentioned in the collection’s title; really they don’t, not at any of the stages of being a woman. In fact, they fall all over themselves trying not to be.
In "The Rhett Butlers," one of the collection’s best, a 17-year-old student reacts to her affair with her "blandly handsome" 40-year-old history teacher: "You always liked school but now you really like school."
A young woman in "The Dive Bar" reveals a great deal of herself and her relationships, particularly with the married man whose wife insists on a meeting in a sleazy bar on upper Broadway.
In "Thoughts of a Bridesmaid," the plain friend of a bride becomes more aware of their relationship and the losses involved.
A middle-aged housewife in "Blue Heron Ridge" begins an affair with a personal trainer in her neighborhood before realizing he’s been far more neighborly than she originally thought.
A married woman in "Cranberry Relish," remembering an affair of hers that began online with Facebook, finds that her former lover has moved on to Twitter and Skype.
The disorganized woman of "That Dance You Do" finally embraces motherhood as she plans a birthday party for her 8-year-old son.
The wife and mother of "Andorra" returns from an illicit weekend and ultimate breakup with her lover to realize that some losses are over quickly and some are not.
And then there’s Maya, who, at various stages of womanhood, is at the center of the remaining stories. Maya is the young woman in "How to Give the Wrong Impression," toying with her male roommate for public "consumption" or possibly her own.
In the title story, Maya awaits the death of her pet Labrador with her boyfriend and his mother. Maya celebrates her engagement in "Dark Matters" by having an affair with her boss. Maya, pregnant in "Grendel’s Mother," finds she’s allergic to her wedding ring. She has it cut off by the fire department the day after her wedding, and then gives in to her new husband’s entreaty that her sister-in-law move in for a while.
"Single, Carefree, Mellow" is both wickedly hilarious and deeply poignant—often within the same story. The losses that the book’s women find themselves dealing with grow out of one basic truth. Katherine Heiny ends the collection with that single palpable certainty: "This is how it was going to be from here on out, she realized suddenly, nothing but a long series of partings, each one ripping at the fabric of her: goodbye, and goodbye, and goodbye."
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.