The title of Monica Heisey’s debut comes handily packaged with its own three-word precis for the lazy reviewer (“oh how is it?” / “Really good actually”), but – as the novel goes on to show us – it’s actually a postcard from the edge of sorts, “really good, actually” functioning as a struggling person’s way of saying yeah, despite all of the shit, I’m doing really well – the ‘actually’ undercutting everything in a “the lady doth protest too much” sort of way.
Things kick off with Maggie not so seriously wondering if maybe her and her relatively newish husband Jon aren’t actually meant to be at all – a proposition Jon seemingly wholeheartedly agrees with, upping sticks and leaving her to the flat they once shared for her to work out what life after marriage looks like. To begin with, all of her friends are really understanding and interested, as she throws herself with gusto into the dating scene, hooking up with men and women and just, you know, getting out there. But – didn’t you know there had to be a but – Maggie doesn’t actually enjoy herself very much, and she misses Jon, and the life they shared and her negativity becomes something of a disruptor to her friends and before you know it Maggie is in something of a bummer spiral.
Well, we say that. Heisey is a TV writer whose credits include Schitt’s Creek and so (for the most part) the book snaps and crackles and pops with good (and bad) humour. Such as:
“But, I reasoned, no one has a completely healthy relationship with food and exercise, at least not anybody who came of age during the period when the cover of every supermarket tabloid was some variation on ‘This Beach Hag Has Cellulite’.”
“The woman sighed. She was impeccably dressed, with a haircut I recognised from Instagram. Only cool girls had it, and it seemed like you had to go to San Francisco to get it done, but she had probably cut hers herself, with scissors rescued from an old shipwreck.”
“Days passed, and I haunted the house like a reverse-Havisham, wandering aimlessly from room to room.”
But, of course, as we said above, it isn’t all shits and giggles:
“I could no longer bear to stop and talk to people, give them the cheery CliffsNotes of my life, smile and promise I was doing great – really good, actually – then carry on, to eat soup and cut my toenails and watch TV in a basement, alone.”
Aside from a bit of a reliance on listicles, Heisey brings you with her and you sort of root for Maggie (even at her most annoying). If you enjoyed No One is Talking About This but thought it would be maybe 5 or 10% more enjoyable if it had better jokes, then Really Good, Actually is the book for you.
Any Cop?: Probably not the book to read if you are about to embark on a divorce but maybe the book to read if you’re either thinking about it or on the other side of one looking at the good ship divorce from a place somewhere many leagues hence.