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Monica Heisey will make you laugh. Her career has reflected that skill: As a screenwriter on Schitt’s Creek and Workin’ Moms, the Toronto-born Heisey has made a living from absurdist yet true-to-life humour. “I want everything I watch or read to be a little bit funny,” she says.

This month sees the publication of Heisey’s debut novel, Really Good, Actually. The book centres on Maggie, a graduate student who’s processing a divorce from a short marriage, born of a long romantic relationship. Maggie learns to Be Divorced (Heisey’s prose features this style of capitalization, a wry emphasis on faux importance) like a baby deer learns to walk on all fours. She is clumsy in her attempts to reach peace (she buys lots of candles and skincare products, yet goes to great pains to avoid actual therapy), and is stubbornly pessimistic in her refusal to see light on the horizon. Hers is an unfathomable pain, and no one really gets it, except that she knows they probably are trying their best to get it – so maybe she should be nicer to the friends carrying her baby deer legs.

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Really Good, Actually, by Monica Heisey.Supplied

Written in smart prose that occasionally takes the form of narrative-driving lists (recent Google searches, for instance), and transcripts of fictional e-mails written to people no one should be writing to (ex-husband, UberEats), Really Good, Actually laughs at heartbreak, delicately, tenderly and with an emphasis on heart.

It is inevitable that Heisey, who now lives in London, England, will spend a large chunk of her press tour addressing the similarities between herself and Maggie. Heisey is divorced. Monica starts with the letter M. The cover of the novel’s Canadian edition features a woman with curly, red hair – not unlike Heisey’s.

“I knew there would be some of that allusion happening with any debut novel, especially with young women writers,” Heisey says. “There’s this question of, is it you? How much is it you? And I didn’t help myself necessarily by making the protagonist look like me.”

She says that, while the plot is fully fictional, her protagonist’s physical similarity was deliberate. “A huge core theme of the book is body image and beauty standards, diet culture and women’s relationships, specifically the narrator’s relationship to those pressures. I’ve had the most ... opinions about interacting with the world through a body that looks like this. So I thought a physical form would be an easy kind of thing to share with my narrator. I have felt really comfortable with Maggie and I overlapping in that way.”

When it came to translating her lived experience to fiction, Heisey searched for “a funnier way to explore this than how it actually happened for me.” Really Good, Actually is billed as an anti-romantic romantic comedy. The bulk of the book finds Maggie processing romantic relationships through her platonic friendships; her ex-husband takes up little space in its pages.

“Heartbreak is just a really funny thing to me,” Heisey says, “because it’s simultaneously very grave and serious and devastating and life changing, and also it’s a fairly quotidian experience that most of us have already survived a couple times by the time we go through it again.”

This is a sensible perspective from a grown woman who’s lived through some stuff. It’s also a perspective that differs from the winking melodrama of Really Good, Actually. “I think we’re all pretending that everything that’s happening to us is really important or structured in some way,” Heisey says. “Like it’s not just completely random and that we’re not just these decaying meat bags. The reality of it is kind of mundane and maybe a little bit dumb, but it feels very real to us.”

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Author Monica Heisey.Supplied

And in reality, as in Really Good, Actually, nothing feels more dramatic than humiliation – which is pervasive in Maggie’s mourning process. She orders junk food at all hours of the night, then quietly waits for the the delivery worker to plop the food down outside and leave before opening the door to grab said junk food in privacy. But in a later scene, Maggie is mortified to discover that, for every late-night delivery, a notification was sent to the initial food-app subscriber: her ex-husband. Embarrassing.

I wonder to Heisey whether this comedic melodrama is gendered in any way. Why is it so relatable to me as a woman? “I think men are equally capable of being hysterical,” she says, “but I’m very intimately familiar with the more feminine approach to hysteria. I think everyone can go emotionally ballistic, but I think it’s maybe a little funnier because it’s less dangerous when women do. I think Maggie, and a lot of women I know, when they feel panicked about something, it becomes anxiety for them. They aren’t necessarily spewing it out onto others. Instead, they’re sort of spewing it onto themselves.”

Later in our interview, I remark that Heisey is “not a super online person.” She closes her eyes, holds her hands to her chest, and earnestly replies, “Thank you.” Still, I ask for her last Google search. Be honest, I say. She complies. “I think I’ve been looking for, um, stuff to wear …” she tells me, as she pulls up her browser.

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“Oh no,” Heisey says. “It’s worse.”

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