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Originally published Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 5:02 AM

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‘Half as Happy’: Love, grief and loss on the domestic front

Eastern Washington author Gregory Spatz’s new story collection “Half as Happy” features eight tales of people struggling with domestic concerns.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Gregory Spatz

The author of “Half as Happy” will read at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com).

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“Half as Happy”

by Gregory Spatz

Engine Books, 184 pp., $14.95

Gregory Spatz is on a roll. Author of three novels and writing faculty member at Eastern Washington University, he can celebrate both publishing his second story collection — a feat for any fiction writer — and receiving a 2012 NEA Literature Fellowship.

His eight stories in “Half as Happy,” all heavy on narrative and flashback, share domestic concerns. In “Any Landlord’s Dream,” a couple rents a house to escape the home where their child died and perhaps patch their ailing marriage. In “Luck,” a couple on an Alaskan cruise finds the journey fails to alleviate the husband’s grieving when he mistakes a fellow passenger for the drunken driver who killed one of his daughters. And in “No Kind of Music,” a couple that hadn’t managed to have a child has split up but still seeks each other out at times.

A love triangle results in “A Bear for Trying” when one character’s heart stops. Revived and rushed to a hospital, he survives but his brother takes up with his wife during a long recuperation. And in the title story, a man named Stan becomes angry with his wife when she seems to love a woman friend too much.

In “String,” a boys’ prank causes a man to swerve his truck and be seriously injured when it goes over an embankment. Told from three points of view — the boys’, the driver’s, and that of a woman who happens along and gives the victim a ride to the hospital — the story’s episodic structure provides pieces that click into clarity only near the end.

These are competent slices of life about death, jealousy and unhappiness. All were published previously in excellent literary journals. Separately, they have their strengths. As a collection, there is so little joy among the characters that the recurring misery somewhat damages the whole.

Former Seattleite Irene Wanner lives and writes in New Mexico.

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