[An] icy, masterful first short-story collection ... It’s almost uncivilized how precisely Barrodale renders life as a banal grotesquerie in which you have the wherewithal to decide nothing ... It’s this perverse, quotidian heroism that I love. Barrodale’s are a people who do not need to present their epiphanies as having any visible symptoms—it’s enough just to feel changed ... Barrodale elevates anecdotes into art.
All of the stories in this stark and cutting collection grapple with our failure to communicate, and investigate not merely the woeful inefficiency of language itself (although that’s bad enough) but also the inherent impossibility of truly understanding another person’s internal state. The book’s power comes from Barrodale’s ability to distort and project the familiar into something new ... The collection’s best and most exemplary story, 'Night Report,' employs elements of modernity to show how little our communication skills have improved with time ... Barrodale has captured something near to what it feels like to be confined to a human brain.
Each of the stories deals, generally, with thirty-something Americans in bad relationships. Reading about them is like being a friend’s date to a dinner party among her close friends: Everyone sees the stranger in the room but continues the gossip about their lovers, mothers, and prescriptions as if the new arrival understood by default. No effort is made to show the stranger this unfamiliar social world. Ultimately this collection is about how a small slice of people—wealthy, creative types, some writers, some actors, some musicians—deal with one another. The customs and particularities are referenced, rather than described, in a tone that reads like a VICE column (where Barrodale is Fiction Editor and has written extensively) or an episode of Girls ... Much of Barrodale’s prose reads like this: Narrators recount actions, while the senses get left behind ... Barrodale intends You Are Having A Good Time to be ironic and comic. But the comedy is opaque, like the inside jokes at the hypothetical dinner party. The audience can only laugh if they identify.
The conflicts [in YAHAGT] are, of course, nothing new — haven't people been having subtle social skirmishes in literature for centuries? — but here, the old struggle is freshened by these characters' voices, and how they justify the low-grade, unyielding stubbornness of their desire to do what they are doing, consequences and reality be damned ... It is worth mentioning that while these stories aren't interwoven, precisely, they often echo each other in odd, deliberate ways. Not just the themes (affairs, Buddhism, therapy) but specific images that repeat and reference each other ... This uncanny repetition only adds to the collection's unsettling mood. There is a fascinating grotesqueness here, from the mean, broken, oblivious characters to the funny, ugly scenarios they're placed into. Even the structures of the stories are disconcerting: They always open so deep midscene — so breathlessly ready to go, so breathlessly already going — it's disorienting, like a film that starts with a character in midfall off a cliff. But the grotesqueness is also cut with moments of beauty.
Barrodale’s tales are witty, but they can also be lumbering. Her unusual characters are in odd stories that are sometimes difficult to connect with ... The many strengths of Barrodale’s work include the way she artfully engages characters in miscommunicative dialogue ... Barrodale’s style in the stories of You Are Having a Good Time is sparse. Sparse can work, but every once in a while her characters’ actions seem empty or methodical, devoid of purpose. The subtext is either missing or too difficult to discern through the staccato of her syntax. This is not an even collection, and as it progresses, it becomes more distant and difficult.