How Katherine Heiny Returned With a Dazzling Collection of Short Stories

August 22, 2022 – 08:50 am

arts opener_14When Katherine Heiny was 25, she mailed a short story to the New Yorker on a Thursday and received a call from the fiction editor on Friday. “I didn’t even know the mail worked that fast, ” Heiny says. “It’s like an urban legend.”

The story, “How To Give The Wrong Impression, ” was about a psychology student who tries to make it seem like her roommate is her boyfriend. In 1997, a few years after appearing in the New Yorker, the story was anthologized in a collection alongside pieces from the likes of John Updike and Alice Munro. It’s still taught in high schools and writing workshops. But after she wrote that story, Heiny herself mostly disappeared from the literary world.

Up until this year, that is. Heiny, who lives in Bethesda, just published her first book: a collection of short stories called Single, Carefree, Mellow. “I’m a little hung over, ” Heiny told me when she arrived for our interview; the night before, she’d given her first reading from the book at Politics & Prose. She has lots of reasons to celebrate.

The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review called Heiny’s book “something like Cheever mixed with Ephron.” Lena Dunham blurbed it as “magical.” And Elizabeth Hottel, Politics & Prose’s events coordinator, told the crowd at the reading that she loved Heiny’s stories so much, she volunteered to come to work on a Sunday to introduce her, which she thought she’d never done before.

The collection contains stories of a high school senior bored of her affair with her English teacher; a suburban mother who falls in love with somebody over Facebook; and a woman who can’t help flirting with the veterinarian treating her dying dog. Nearly all of the 11 pieces are about adultery, but they don’t deal with break-ups or confrontations. Instead, Heiny lingers on the details and day-to-day moments that make up the bulk of her heroines’ lives: how wraparound dresses never stay wrapped, or how sad a perfect summer evening on the front porch can feel, even with ice cream and the sprinkler running.

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