I recently finished Sarah Dunn's second novel, Secrets to Happiness. Her first book, The Big Love, was the second book I read after I started my blog in 2006, and I reviewed it here. At the time, I said, "Dunn offers up astute insights about female friendship, sex, and relationships.... [She] is a fresh, natural writer whose pages flow quickly, and whose storytelling is well-paced and surprising. I really enjoyed this book and was sad to see it end."
I have pretty much the same things to say about Secrets to Happiness. It's the story of a loosely connected group of New Yorkers, each of whom is seeking a happy, fulfilling relationship. Holly Frick is a divorced writer for a children's cable station; her best friend Amanda is about to embark on an affair with a single thirtysomething; her ex-boyfriend Spence has been dumped by his long-distance girlfriend because he cheated on her; her gay writing partner seeks anonymous partners online, etc. etc. etc. Pretty typical fare for a book about post- millennial New Yorkers.
But what makes Secrets to Happiness so surprisingly good are Dunn's insights, humor, eloquence, and powers of observation. She's very funny (and as a result, her characters are similarly quick with the jokes), and her books are readable and entertaining. Despite their faults, they are likeable and easy to relate to. Here is a passage I especially liked:
West End Avenue has a very distinctive feel, especially for a street that doesn't have anything all that distinctive about it. There's no commerce to speak of at street level, and the traffic goes both ways, and the stoplights seem to take forever to change, but that isn't enough to explain the feeling. Holly always thought that it seemed oddly out of sync with time - not like it belonged in an earlier century, or even in a different decade, but more like, well, when you got there, you found yourself in side a different day of the week than the one you were in before. Like it was Wednesday on Broadway, but a few hundred feet away, over on West End, somehow, it was Sunday.
New York itself plays a large role in the book - as this passage suggests - which I particularly loved. It has been a long time since I lived there, but Sarah Dunn caught me up a little.
Secrets to Happiness is a pretty light read, but a satisfying one. Highly recommended.