Tuesday, January 10

brought to you by the letter Z

the main character of this book I just finished is described by the blurber (yes, that is a true job-title, I promise) as "a quixotic renegade" and "delightfully oblivious." his name is Zeke. he is not perfect. he is not very smart. but I wanted him to have a happy ending. (I'll apologize in advance if I spoil this novel for any of you. I'm not trying to. but then I'm not trying not to, either. sorry?)

title: My American Unhappiness. I heard about this book on NPR. the author, Dean Bakopoulos, was being interviewed about it, sharing snippets and drumming up a bit of relevance. it sounded like a quirky and potentially fascinating read, so I read it. funnily enough, Zeke, working on his American Unhappiness project in the book, lies to people all the time about working for NPR, just so they will be more willing to participate and share the reason they are so unhappy. that connection amused me, just a bit.

the ending of this book was suitably heart-wrenching--page after page of disappointment and bogs of stupid semi-tragedies--but then the heart-wrench gets chewed into bits by a piercing, shiny ambiguity. I don't know if Zeke ends up unhappy or happy or if he finds what he's looking for or not. I guess I'm okay with that. I didn't dog-ear too many pages, but here are the ones I did (not counting the three-page section on the institutional slavery of Americans between pages 45 and page 48. that would've been insane to retype. I did read it aloud to my father though).
"My favorite sort of Facebook status update is the sort that is obtuse and unknowable. ... A good status alludes to some sort of emotion, some sort of yearning, but it doesn't offer any sort of clues..." page 179

"We love stories in which we are the protagonists in search of truth.... But my feeling is that we can cope with the increasing smallness, rapidness, and indifference of our changing, violent world only by seeing ourselves as noble characters caught in the struggle. We are all, as Turgenev so presciently said over a century ago, either Hamlets of Quixotes, and we must be these kinds of people if we are to endure." page 252

"What makes me so unhappy?
People walking away, dressed in winter clothes, the sky the same gray as their coats, the branches of the trees around them, black-gray and skinned." page 266

"As I drive among the streets of Livonia, so geared toward the life of family, of stable and easy domesticity, I live a fantasy life of regrets, missed opportunities. I imagine them as if they had taken flight." page 269
that penultimate quote wraps itself perfectly around the whole meaning and title of the story. why are you so unhappy? why are we so unhappy? is there anything to be done about it? will cataloguing our emotions make us feel any better?

2 comments:

Janeheiress said...

Why are we unhappy? Because, to quote Agent Smith, "Humans define their reality through misery and suffering."

I think America is suffering a major identity crisis for the simple reason that as a society we no longer have faith in anything.

Sounds like an interesting book!

amelia c said...

it was interesting. lots of thought-provoking ideas about society. one thing the narrator made sure to do was distinguish between sadness and unhappiness. he said sadness has a cause, usually. but unhappiness... it just permeates everything, and it's harder to pin down the reasons for it.