Two weeks ago, after my class and I read Lydia Millet’s My Happy Life, we talked about how the book affected us. I asked them to describe how they felt immediately after they finished reading the book. I tried to explain to them that after I finished reading My Happy Life, I just sat in my house at my desk and stared at the wall and felt emotions, but as I felt the emotions, I had a hard time realizing which emotions I was feeling, as if the realization that I was feeling emotions was incompatible with the actual feeling of emotions. Does that make sense? Then I stopped talking and looked at my class and giggled.
Anyhow, some of the students also added their experiences to my own, and though I can’t remember all that was exactly said, I remember that what was often described was this sense that the book left the student both feeling happy and sad (this seemed to be an exciting part of the conversation because it required us to keep in mind sadness and happiness simultaneously), that the book had made the student think about the ‘details’ and ‘little things’ of his or her life (remember the narrator’s collection of tiny objects?), that no matter how shitty you think your life is…and so on.
This was the first time I had heard about my great stupidity. And I was quite surprised, as it had not occurred to me. But certainly it did account for many things. And it always followed a pummeling, when the world blurred into gray edges and my ears throbbed and darted inside. I would wander without destination often, in the wake of beatings. I would believe I was a floating shadow riding on puffs of air, my toes barely skimming the ground.
-from My Happy Life by Lydia Millet