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Happiness Economics

by Shari Lapeña

Art squares off against commerce in Shari Lapeña’s second novel, a funny yet earnest tale of a struggling poet’s attempts to find his muse. Will Thorne is suffering from a debilitating case of writer’s block when his wife, Judy, a celebrity economist, strikes a bargain with him: if he will agree to write advertising slogans, she will provide financial support for his new pet project, the Poets’ Preservation Society.

As a poet with big dreams for the genre’s success in contemporary culture, Will hopes that his philanthropic work will truly make an impact, both for poetry and his own stalled life. But it’s not the Society that turns things around for Will, it’s the arrival of his muse, the enigmatic Lily White. Lily, a self-proclaimed horrible poet (but devoted lover of poetry), prompts Will to see his writing and his life in a new light.

Lily’s sudden presence doesn’t come without problems, though. His wife and friends are suspicious of Will’s connection to the young, attractive woman, and Will himself struggles with his feelings for Lily. Will’s crush on Lily may be strong, but is it worth risking his family to pursue?

Although the novel’s moral dilemma and general trajectory are somewhat predictable, the three well-realized protagonists help to keep the reader going. In particular, Lapeña very effectively negotiates the fine line that allows Lily to remain enigmatic to Will yet appear fully developed for the reader. It’s unfortunate, however, that some of the quirky minor characters are underserved. Will’s children, Zoe and Alex, for example, are both promising in the early chapters, but come to mediocre resolutions by the story’s end.