First Fiction Fridays: The Capacity for Infinite Happiness by Alexis von Konigslow

May 1, 2015

Set at a fictional vacation lodge in Prince Edward County, Ontario, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness follows Emily’s attempts to chart her family history, eventually revealing long-held secrets and her family’s true identity. Among the connections she discovers is Harpo Marx, whose time at the lodge in the 1930s is chronicled in a parallel narrative that intercepts Emily’s in surprising and profound ways.

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What:

The Capacity for Infinite Happiness
(Wolsak & Wynn, 2015)

Who:

Alexis von Konigslow studied mathematics and physics before completing an MFA in creative writing, for which an early version of The Capacity for Infinite Happiness served as thesis. Originally from Kingston, Ontario, she now lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

Why you need to read this now:

Plotting the Family: Mathematics, Secrets and Harpo Marx

Emily Kogan is trying to write her master’s thesis in mathematics, using graph theory to illustrate interpersonal relationships – or, as she explains to her grandmother, “I’m looking at the connectivity of people… quantifying how people change each other.” Little does she know, however, just how much the connections she discovers will change her, redefining her sense of family and of self.

Set at a fictional vacation lodge in Prince Edward County, Ontario, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness follows Emily’s attempts to chart her family history, eventually revealing long-held secrets and her family’s true identity. Among the connections she discovers is Harpo Marx, whose time at the lodge in the 1930s is chronicled in a parallel narrative that intercepts Emily’s in surprising and profound ways.

Alexis von Konigslow draws on her Jewish heritage and love of the Marx Brothers to explore what she calls “the viral stubbornness of a well-kept secret” and the many ways, both obvious and clandestine, that people are connected. As Emily’s grandmother Blima puts it: “Relation is much more complicated than just biology.”

Like the family in her book, von Konigslow’s family operated a lodge – this one near Huntsville, Ontario – that was one of few to welcome Jewish families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Although Harpo Marx was never a guest, von Konigslow’s imagination (and some fairly thorough research, to be sure) brings him to life in such detail that it’s hard to believe his plotline is entirely fictional. Equally realistic and engaging are the members of the Kogan family, whose struggles and secrets and enduring spirits are sure to resonate with readers.

Even if you don’t like math or the Marx Brothers, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness will draw you in. With finely wrought prose and a keen sense of narrative, von Konigslow weaves together historical detail and tragicomic sentiment to create that rare concoction: a story at-once unique and universal, original in its telling, but completely relatable in its emotion. It’s a story you won’t soon forget (nor would you want to).

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Thank you to Wolsak & Wynn for sharing this new novel with us! If you're in Toronto on May 7th, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness will be launching at the Monarch Tavern.


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