HAPPINESS FOR BEGINNERS
By Katherine Center
Published in 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin.
Reviewed by Victoria Williams.
With five novels under her belt, Contemporary American Fiction Author Katherine Center is something of a literary expert when it comes to writing about love of family. And she doesn’t miss a beat with her latest book, Happiness for Beginners. It tells the story of Helen Carpenter, a thirty-something elementary school teacher who is looking for a fresh start after her six-year marriage to her husband, Mike, ends in divorce. She sets off for a three-week outdoor adventure in the Wyoming wilderness and, what she finds, ends up to be much more than she bargained for.
Throughout the course of the book, Center very cleverly adds bits of humor into the narrative of the story, reminding us that laughter is good for soul. There were several times in fact, while reading the novel, where I admittedly caught myself laughing out loud. You can also sense a positive change in attitude between the characters as the story progresses, particularly after Helen and her fellow “Mother Nature” enthusiasts divide and conquer the great outdoors while hiking through the Absaroka Mountains. Each hiker not only discovers who they are, but learns to appreciate others around them and develops a sense of admiration for one another because of what they have gone through together. A deep sense of comradery between characters is also introduced and developed through the use of nicknames, making it easier for the audience to connect and root for them to succeed on this once-in-a-lifetime journey through the unknown.
The Houston-based author also explores the topic of love in the novel and hints at a romance between Helen and Jake, a 20-something Ivy-League Scholar, who just also happens to be her little brother’s best friend. At the start, Helen has little interest in getting romantically involved with anyone. She is much more concerned with earning a certificate of merit at the end of the wilderness course. Jake, on the other hand, is willing to risk his heart by coming clean about the crush he’s had for her since boyhood.
Initially, the possibility of an intimate relationship between the pair is suggested through a sort of meet-cute scenario, where Jake baits Helen into playing a game of Scrabble. Ultimately, though, it is a combination of flirty exchanges, romantic gestures and gentlemanly behavior that leads Jake to get the girl in the end.
With Jake’s help, Helen learns to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, uncovers the real truth about a family secret and develops a new-found appreciation for her brother, Duncan. But, probably most important of all, she learns to love again, just as you will!
Victoria Williams holds a BA in Communications from Montclair State University in New Jersey. She is a former Journalist for the South Jersey News in Woodbury, New Jersey. Victoria has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since November 2013 and serves as a member of its Marketing Committee. She also serves as a Teaching Assistant for the league. Victoria is also a member of the Women Communicators of Austin. She is a writer for its Communications Committee and has recently been appointed as its Publicity Chair. Victoria is a native of New Jersey.