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Something Happened

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  4,939 ratings  ·  339 reviews
Bob Slocum was living the American dream. He had a beautiful wife, three lovely children, a nice house...and all the mistresses he desired. He had it all -- all, that is, but happiness. Slocum was discontent. Inevitably, inexorably, his discontent deteriorated into desolation until...something happened.
Something Happened is Joseph Heller's wonderfully inventive and contro
Paperback, 576 pages
Published November 12th 1997 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1966)
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This is an amazingly great book...and I generally recommend against reading it.

This book takes place entirely inside the head of a middle-aged, upper middle-class, middle manager. He is not a nice person. He is not a unique person. He is not a particularly interesting person...except for the stunning detail in which we get to know him. We see--no--we live through his insecurities, his sex drive, his job, his nostalgia, his insecurities, his wife, his sex drive, his humor, his insecurities, his d
Matthew Fitzgerald
I know Bob Slocum. I hate Bob Slocum. I am far too often too much like Bob Slocum.

What do you make of 550+ pages of internal narration, with no discernible plot, no character growth, no catharsis after reading the darkest, most selfish, most petulant and childish and sad and real meanderings of a middle American mind? You get Heller's Something Happened, and you get one man's view of what has happened to the American dream.

I find it hard to write about this book without knowing when and how it c
It was love at first sight (pun intended) and my affection with Catch-22 continues for over a decade. It is strange that I never thought of reading another one of Joseph Heller's, until one of my close mates bought "Something Happened" for me. I would have abandoned this book at the first 20 pages, if not for that kind soul who gifted it and the lingering memories of Catch-22. In hindsight, I should have moved on.

You are on a crowded bus, the journey is tedious, you don't how long it is gonna ta
Jul 04, 2007 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
"More like Nothing Happened," I've heard it quipped, which misses the entire point. Where Catch-22's Yossarian was essentially likeable, Heller doesn't give you that easy out with Bob Slocum.

From Vonnegut's review in the New York Times (1974): "Is this book any good? Yes. It is splendidly put together and hypnotic to read. It is as clear and hard-edged as a cut diamond. [...] This is black humor indeed--with the humor removed."
Jared Smith
Something happened…and I still can’t figure out what it is. With Heller’s careful and passionate dialogues along with profound character development, he successfully produced his second book about nothing. There are few authors that can write an entire novel without a plot and still make it encapsulating and powerful. I take my hat off to Mr. Heller, especially when he identifies many of our empty words and selfish tendencies in our interpersonal relationships. It will scare you to read the absu ...more
This is the sad story about Bob Slocum: business man, husband and father. Written in 1st person, largely inside the mind of Slocum, we see true unhappiness as he pines for a better career, has unsatisfying affairs with secretaries and office workers, and constantly wishes for a better family and better life. The drive of this tell-all confessional of Slocum's, is the curiosity as to which, of all his unhappy situations, will be the most destructive. I thought, as I neared the end, that Heller mi ...more
Karl Marx S.T.
In my opinion, this is Joseph Heller’s best novel, bar none.

Something Happened is Mr. Heller’s second novel, published in 1974 and is thirteen years after his great first novel, Catch-22.

The protagonist Bob Slocum, narrates the story in his stream of consciousness about his family, his childhood, and sexual escapades. The novel is pretty thick that you might have second thoughts about reading it. There are moments in the book where i found myself confuse on what’s happening (and it’s overly repe
Mike Frost
Let me preface this by saying that despite the single star rating, I think Joseph Heller is an amazing author. Catch-22 is definitely one of the best books of all time, and technically Heller's writing is quite good in Something Happened.

That said, I thoroughly disenjoyed this book. It was actively unfun. It took Joseph Heller about three times as long to say exactly what Steinbeck did in The Winter of Our Discontent -- and he said it less interestingly. This story of unhappiness with the modern
David Newman
Bob Slocum, the protagonist of Something Happened, is the prototypical successful modern man. Replete with all the trappings--ascending career, expansive home in the suburbs, attractive wife--he is the ideal we (the sons) were told we were supposed to aspire to. But to our dismay Bob Slocum is a man in the full throws of existential crisis. We find him in his late forties standing on the precipice, staring into the abyss. Here is a man adrift in a world devoid of rational purpose or design, conf ...more
read this book almost four years ago and it has stayed with me. you don't really want to identify with the main character because his life is a sordid, pathetic mess, but it creeps onto you anyway and by the end you feel sort of used and old and sad. or was that just me? there were moments of humor too, but what i remember most is the plethora of parentheticals, the theory on the whammy, and the despair. if you're expecting catch-22 this is not quite it. think american beauty, but less uplifting ...more
Tyrone Swanson
This is an incredibly well written book and an amazing character study, however, I can't rightly say it's anywhere near my other books that I considered to be my favorite. It's a very heavy novel and can kind of make you feel like crap to be honest. I just finished it and I feel like crap, for example.

I love Heller, his quirkiness and his humor, and it's all in here by the truck load, but it's all very dark and it sticks with you, which is both good and bad. The character's musings present the e
Aug 21, 2008 Edward marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: Any happy people
Recommended to Edward by: The most bitingly funny person I know
I never finished this book, so I am classifying it as "to read." It is an incredible book--what I read of it--but it is perhaps the most depressing book I have ever read. For this reason alone, I recommend it strongly. If you can get through it, please let me know, because you have more fortitude than I do.

I should elaborate on how this book is depressing, because the book is also quite humorous. The plot itself is not especially depressing (nor is it actually much of a plot, at least not what I
Nothing happened. Despite having written the enthralling and intriguing Catch-22, this does not even come close to the same level. The main character describes his pathetic life in minute details but does nothing to change the relationships he despises. There is no plot, no real character development, and no climax that's meaningful. The 'something' that happened, did so in the last three pages but since you couldn't relate to the main character, Bob Slocum, you couldn't feel for him at the end. ...more
Jul 19, 2012 Jeremy marked it as gave-up
I gave up on book after about 20 pages. I like Heller's style of writing, but this type of novel (probably relatively new at the time of writing) has now been way overdone. It's the amoral, dispassionate, existential novel that casually drives home the depressing reality of life bereft of universals. One is weighed down by the meaninglessness, hopelessness, listlessness, and flippantly debaucherous nature of life without some undergirding or direction. I think the first example I know of was Cam ...more

Okay it's not as good as his first novel. Well what is? I recall being disappointed when I first read this, the second novel by the author of Catch 22. Though in fact in its own way it's also brilliant.

The protagonist is living the post war American dream. Except that for him it's a nightmare. Empty. The house the family the job the car etc.
"I get the willies when I see closed doors. " I just liked that opening line. It sets the tone for what is a savage dissection of the modern malaise.
St Fu
It was too long. Like life Ha ha. It was repetitive. Like an argument. Like the chorus of a song. Like sex. Like going to work. Sometimes it was amazing, but not enough for 5 stars. There's always a 5 star book ahead of you for you to fear being inferior to.

The something that happens was foreshadowed long before, but it's no longer significant. Its lack of significance is what is significant. Early on, we are asked, what happened to that perfect child? The one we start out as? The one our childr
Leo Robertson
“Clearly the hardest thing for the working artist is to create his own conception and follow it, unafraid of the strictures it imposes, however rigid these may be... I see it as the clearest evidence of genius when an artist follows his conception, his idea, his principle, so unswervingly that he has this truth of his constantly in his control, never letting go of it even for the sake of his own enjoyment of his work.”
― Andrei Tarkovsky

At first I thought it was this type of work I was reading, b
"I love him so much I just know he is going to die" (pg. 166)

"I wonder if the time will ever come when I begin, without recognizing I am doing it and without detecting change, saying out loud the things I now say privately to myself or verbalize in contemplation and if I will therefore become psychotic or one of those men-...if that happens, I will blend my inner world with my outee world and be disoriented in both." (Pg. 246)

"There are valves in my heart; there are valves in my car; if General
(4.7/5.0) There’s that moment in American Beauty, just after Kevin Spacey gets shot in the head, when the director goes for broke, doling out an abundance of voiceover and somber piano and transporting us into the bits of brain now splattered across Annette Bening’s kitchen. From there, the plot stalls, we enter an ethereal space, and trying not to be snide, Spacey delivers that famous final monologue into which Alan Ball has managed to stuff all kinds of cloying signifiers. Remember that final ...more
Generally when an author makes his debut with a great book, two things happen, the subsequent books of the author are not as good as the first one or even if writes a better book somehow it is always in the shadow of the first one. The second happened to Joseph Heller, with his second novel 'Something Happened', which to me personally is as good as Catch-22 if slightly better than it. But which somehow does not seem to have got the same importance of 'Catch-22' or captured people's imagination a ...more
If you're looking for a film that underscores a lot of the same themes as this book, Revolutionary Road is that film. Both deal with the futility of having a 9-5 job without any sense of purpose and both have the potential to depress you utterly if you let it.

In regards to the book itself, it is well written. Heller knows how to express images extremely well. However, the whole book is hundreds of pages longer than it needs to be. When reading this, dont expect your typical plot line of rise, cl
Well, I think the Something is not just the event that does eventually happen, but everything else. It took me a while to appreciate the book, it requires patience. Like a lot people that loved CATCH-22 - I wanted to relive that humor and tragedy over again w/ SOMETHING HAPPENED. There are moments, like the phone calls to his old employer, an automobile casualty insurance company that put a smile on my face - it was indeed reminiscent of CATCH-22. Another common thread w/ CATCH-22 is that the bo ...more
Tom Holt
The first part of the book, "The office in which I work" has a similar flavor to Catch-22's satire on the comically ridiculous nature of bureaucracies mixed with the paranoia and inferiority complexes of troubled human beings. Bob Slocum could probably be described as a sex addict with tragic family problems and unfulfilled dreams. His relationships with his co-workers are pettier than most middle-school girls', and his family lives in constant fear of his angry outbursts. This book is not Catc ...more
Jan 09, 2012 Nina rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: working adults
Recommended to Nina by: Colin Marshall
Here's a podcast book club discussion of Something Happened, brought to you by Barely Literate, Colin Marshall, and the letter I. Barely Literate is a spoilers podcast, so read that once you're done with the book. We'll wait. It's a big, grueling book, but it's worth the effort.

I started reading this book just as I was preparing to enter the adult work force after graduating college, and I'm telling you, it did not make me look forward to being a grown-up
Brian Holland
Many have lived a life similar to that of Heller's main character, Bob Slocum. I also have a daughter and a son close to the ages of the characters within, and have found it astounding the way he'd sometimes hit the nail on the head with resemblance in many of the conversations between father and offspring, spouse as well. The irony and comparability to my marriage, and life in general, was both hysterical and intense. I have a disabled son too, and know quite well the difficulties and complicat ...more
Nov 10, 2010 Daniel marked it as want
I want to read this solely based on the excerpt included in Alfie Kohn's book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, which literally brought me to tears:
""I try to give him a will to win. He doesn't have one...He passes the basketball deliberately -- he does it deliberately, Mr. Slocum, I swear he does. Like a joke. He throws it away -- to some kid on the other team just to give him a chance to make some points or to surprise the kids on his own team. For a joke. That's some joke, isn't it? .
Patrick Gibson
It's one thing to be audacious and irreverent about war -- especially an American war with all its American foibles -- and it's quite another to look mockingly and dizzily at the death of one's own self. The hero is a man watching himself die into middle age, die to love and idealism, die to sex, and fearing only one thing: that his beloved son will die, too. Time literally stops -- even in his reminiscences of his boyhood office job, in which the teasing secretary he never quite manages to slee ...more
A howl of despair about work- and family-bound America, this book isn't nearly as good as the critics of the time tried to make it. It could be about 150 pages shorter, and ends up being way too repetitious. (Its overuse of the parenthesis is also really annoying.) (Really annoying.)

That's not to say that the book is all bad though. Here's one representative passage, about the narrator's daughter:

"She will never dance on the stage of Radio City Music Hall. She will be some boy's girl friend for
I actually like this book better than Catch-22. I believe that Alan Ball used a lot of Heller's characterization in this novel to create Lester Burnham for American Beauty. The novel's protagonist is, simply put, an ass. You don't have to like him to become mesmerized (only word I can think of) by what he says and does and how he perceives everything and everybody with all filters turned off; it's like a snapshot of all of the very real, dark, horrific things that go on in all of our minds that ...more
John Pappas
This novel could be the representative novel of the Age of Anxiety. It contains oceans of anxiety -- principally the white male middle-class anxiety of Bob Slocum, a middle manager at an insurance firm who despairs in the shifting political and ideological landscape of the 1960s that results in the loss of white male privilege, and is petrified at growing old and irrelevant. A terrifying critique of the American dream, Heller's book is profoundly sad, despite the utterly repulsive nature of the ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Joseph Heller was the son of poor Jewish parents from Russia. Even as a child, he loved to write; at the age of eleven, he wrote a story about the Russian invasion of Finland. He sent it to New York Daily News, which rejected it. After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1941, Heller spent the next ye
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“Something did happen to me somewhere that robbed me of confidence and courage and left me with a fear of discovery and change and a positive dread of everything unknown that may occur.” 16 likes
“I get the willies when I see closed doors.” 6 likes
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