There Is Happiness

There Is Happiness: New and Selected Stories

W.W. Norton, July 2024

A posthumous collection of beloved and never-before-read stories from a titan of contemporary Southern fiction.

“Here is a generous portion of the work of a swiftly passing lifetime. Bountiful is the deserving page,” Joy Williams writes in her introduction to this astonishing selection of Brad Watson’s published and unpublished stories: “excellent, assured, funny, startling, heartbreaking, wild,“ full of “freakish flair” and “melancholy realism”—stories that give us a “glimpse” of ourselves “so surprising, so varied yet unequivocal, so ruthlessly complete, that it does awaken us in some manner, if not protect or prepare us.”

Brad Watson was a master of dark comedy, extraordinary lyricism, appalling grotesquerie, and unabashed vulnerability; a sublime prose stylist whose novels and stories drew upon the fecundity and moodiness of the South. Male meltdown, carrying with it the possibility of being saved by Dolly Parton or some other woman or maybe by animal friends, is a theme, as is young love and its disillusionment, as are strange neighbors who cannot be understood. A leopard that consumes its zookeeper, pronghorn antelope tenderly transporting the poop of their young, insufferably articulate birds and restless, tolerant dogs—this is also eco-fiction of a very peculiar sort, in which nature reassures, transcends, and finally escapes judging or being judged by us.

Roller-coastering from the mournful to the comical (sometimes in the same paragraph), Watson’s work is both embedded in a literary heritage tied to place and at home in a universal literature of the absurd. His stories waltz with lovely and strange melancholy, infused with wit and astonishing beauty. There Is Happiness embodies the twisted hilarity and undeniable grace of an under-recognized literary genius.

Kirkus starred review of There Is Happiness

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2024

From an American original, a posthumous collection that includes short stories old and new.

Watson’s stories—those in the volumes published in his lifetime and the new ones—are wry, tender, darkly funny, and deeply idiosyncratic. His first book, Last Days of the Dog-Men (1996), focused on dogs—always simply themselves, and therefore enviable and admirable—and often inhabited their bodies, channeled their voices. In one story here, “The Zookeeper and the Leopard,” Watson’s animism goes yet further; a zookeeper’s miscalculated revenge against a rival results in his being eaten by a big cat…and by story’s end his consciousness has been scattered among piles of scat that carry—poignantly, if you can believe it—what remains of his voice. In the terrific introduction here, Joy Williams speaks of the “strange, piteous, futile, and fickle” characters—often thwarted men self-exiled from their families—who people Watson’s world, and the kinships between his work and hers come clear. There’s the attentiveness to animals and the conviction—which never seems mean-spirited—that they’re superior to people; there’s the strong, often elegiac sense of the natural world. But perhaps the strongest link is an imaginative fearlessness that seems, finally, doglike: Both Watson and Williams exemplify Watson’s remark that a dog “is who he is and his only task is to assert this.”

Read full review at Kirkus Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly review

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)