Know Not Why. Hannah Johnson. Amazon Media. May 2012.
Howie gets a job at Artie Kraft’s Arts ‘N Crafts hoping to score with his lady coworkers. After all, girls love a sensitive guy, and what’s more sensitive than dedicating your life to selling yarn and … stuff? (Okay, so maybe it’d be a good idea to actually learn what one sells at an arts ‘n crafts store.)
But things don’t go exactly according to plan. Coworker #1 is Kristy: blonde, bubbly, unattainable perfection. Coworker #2 is Cora: tiny, much-pierced, and way too fierce to screw with in any sense. And Coworker #3 is, well, Arthur.
It goes without saying that he’s not an option. Right?
Yeah, Howie’s life just got straight up confusing.
Excuse me just a minute whilst I gush unrestrainedly about how lovely and wonderful and brilliant this book is! I discovered this novel by chance whilst browsing Amazon; it’s self-published and is only available in e-book format, which is a real shame, because I would love to have a paper copy of this book to snuggle up with after a crappy day. It is the ultimate comfort read, but also clever, witty and superbly-written. I can envision future-me re-reading this one every year, and I only do that with my absolute favourites of all time.
This story is narrated by Howie, a 22 year old guy who’s living back at home with his mom after the death of his dad a few years before, attending a college near his hometown (he never did make it to California), and is feeling rather stuck. Howie loves his family and friends, and it’s never been a problem to be at home, but he’s in a rut, and he doesn’t have many aspirations left beyond getting a job at the local (failing) arts and crafts store, as he believes it will help him score with somebody of the female persuasion (supposedly these kinda places are crawling with ladies….) To Howie’s surprise, he does end up meeting somebody there who’s perfect for him, except that, to his even greater surprise, they’re most definitely not of the female persuasion. They’re also his new boss.
I absolutely adored Howie; I think he’s one of the most hyperactive narrators I’ve ever encountered, as he’s constantly going off on funny little tangents when he’s telling a story, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that there’s a joke in nearly every sentence. I related to him a lot, because the way I tell stories involves a lot of (attempted) humour in brackets too. His train-of-thought type narrative made him one of the most unapologetically real characters I’ve read, and I haven’t laughed so much whilst reading a book in ages.
“It’s weird and terrible, just fucking terrible to be looking at him. It’s almost like I convinced myself he didn’t exist, after… after what happened, and all of a sudden it’s like, here he is, in the flesh, he’s still a flesh-type creature that exists, and it’s flesh that’s been in contact with my flesh, I wish I would stop thinking the word ‘flesh’, you know what’s a gross, creepy, weird word? ‘Flesh’.”
The loveliest thing about this novel by far was Howie’s relationship with Arthur. Howie is not expecting to fall for somebody like Arthur, firstly because Arthur is male (and he’s never truly considered or come to terms with the fact that he’s gay), and secondly because when he first meets him, he develops a weird, irrational hatred of him (he describes him as ‘atrocious’), because he comes across as Howie’s total opposite – he’s unnervingly calm to Howie’s hyper, ‘serious’ (or so Howie assumes), and most importantly, doesn’t ‘do’ fistbumps… Howie tries to make one happen in the job interview instead of a handshake, and it does not go down well. Arthur was hilarious, but in a much more subtle way than Howie (who is a full-on, laugh-a-minute inexhaustible bank of jokes). Arthur has a very dry sense of humour, and the fact that Howie so often failed to realise when Arthur was messing with him was one of the funniest and sweetest things about this novel.
As this is a romantic story, I’m sure you can probably guess how it ends (can there really be any ‘spoilers’?), but I really don’t want to spoil any of the ‘moments’ that unfold between Howie and Arthur throughout the story, because discovering them for yourself will be much more satisfying. I will say, however, that I read the majority of this book with a huge soppy smile on my face. Hannah Johnson has managed to give me all the feels (the warm fuzzy variety) without relying on heavy angst, and I think it requires a great amount of skill to pull that off. Tension is everything, but tension doesn’t have to be gritty and painful to work – the chemistry between Howie and Arthur supplies it in perfect measure. What I loved most about their relationship development was how friendship was just a big a part of the whole thing as attraction. I’ve read so many love stories which are essentially lust stories in disguise, but this one was refreshingly full of heart. I loved the banter between them, the way they listened to each other, supported each other, and most of all, just truly *liked* each other. My favourite quote from Howie is where he describes Arthur by saying “this guy really is the best human.” Howie doesn’t say the L-word directly to Arthur in this story, but I don’t need convincing – this line says it all.
The supporting characters in this novel are brilliant. Howie’s mom’s an extremely cool lecturer/erotic novelist, his friend Mitch is a loveable mess who makes questionable food choices (weird grey hot dogs that have been at the back of the freezer for several years, anyone?)… however, my favourite side character was probably Kristy (Howie’s co-worker at the store, who he initially convinces himself he wants to ‘tap like a spine’, because, yeah, Howie does come out with some rather douchey lines when he’s pretending to be into ladies…!) Kristy is basically the concept of fangirling personified – she’s a bubble of perky, squealy energy, who chatters incessantly (I think she would be annoying in real life, but she’s hilarious on paper) and the way she is head-cheerleader for Arthur and Howie’s relationship was the cutest thing ever. I also loved Emily (the girlfriend Howie’s brother Dennis brings home for Christmas), who was such a sweet oddball of a person. None of the family warms to her to begin with, because she’s very direct (though not in a malicious way – she’s just unflinchingly astute and doesn’t realise she’s making people feel uncomfortable). Her interactions with Howie were adorable – I loved the part where she knitted him super-ugly socks, but he wore them with pride regardless, because he was so won over/weirdly charmed by her.
All of the characters had their quirks, but none of them felt forced (i.e. purely there for humour); they all felt like authentic people, and I connected emotionally with all of them, even when I was laughing at them. This book is the literary equivalent of watching your favourite sit-com, and I think if I were to re-read it every time I felt sad, it couldn’t possibly fail to put a smile on my face. I don’t normally give books *stars* (although maybe I should start, as the word is literally in the name of my blog), but if I did, I’d give this one a million of out 5.
Have you read Know Not Why? If so, let me know, as I desperately need somebody to squeal over this book with!