Happy Baby
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Happy Baby

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  532 ratings  ·  90 reviews
Some stories begin with happy-ever-after...HAPPY BABY is the story of Theo, once the eponymous happy baby, but later an orphan in foster care and now a grown man living in California. Haunted by memories of neglect, abandonment and abuse, Theo returns to Chicago where he lived as a troubled adolescent, to track down an old girlfriend. Told in reverse order, this is an edgy...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published April 1st 2005 by Picador USA (first published February 19th 2004)
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Sep 27, 2007 Alexandra rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: dominatrixes, those who think bdsm is silly/scary
Told anti-linearly, this book illuminates darker corners of the sadomasochistic mind in a more thoughtful and sensitive fashion than I expected. It is about the marriage of sexuality and violence. Brave, sparse and lovely. Plus Stephen Elliott is super nice---I met him (and bought this book) at a Sex Worker's Art Show; he showed us his scars.
I read this book because I discovered The Rumpus on the internet and then Stephen Elliot on twitter. I subsequently signed up for The Rumpus's newsletter and began to look forward to reading Elliot's emails. So, I went to my local book store, Skylight Books in Los Feliz, and bought Happy Baby, not knowing what to expect really. Reading someone's fiction is drastically different than reading their letters.

Elliot's book is beautiful, it's quiet and unassuming and seemingly very honest. It reminds...more
My favorite of the three novels by Elliott that I've read. His portrayal of children in foster care in Chicago seems improbably horrific, but I suspect some very real life experience was utilized to create the scenes described in "Happy Baby." Each chapter works as a stand alone short story, and the literary device Elliott uses here (telling the story in reverse chronology) brings the main character, Theo, into intense focus by the end (when Theo is a 5th grader). The narrative is sparse, but th...more
Sara Habein
Reading Happy Baby after already reading Elliott’s memoir The Adderall Diaries, it’s impossible not to compare the two and notice the semi-autobiographical nature of the novel. Like Theo, Elliott lost his mother at a young age and has an abusive father. Like Theo, Elliott was a ward of the state in Illinois during his teenage years and spent time in group homes. He attempted suicide; he attempted to block out the world by concentrating on simple pain. The sum total of what is and isn’t true rema...more
Allan MacDonell
I won’t presume to imagine Stephen Elliott’s reaction on the day, not long after the publication of Elliott’s Happy Baby, when wunderkind street hustler author JT LeRoy was exposed as a middle-aged woman named Laura Albert. Unaware of Albert’s grandest and grossest fiction—her impersonation of a young man afflicted with AIDS—Elliott had placed a chunk from a JT LeRoy interview ahead of his own precise and sure Happy Baby narration, and a JT LeRoy blurb gushes on the novel’s back cover. So, I pic...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I downloaded a free copy from Mr. Elliott's website. And I read this while simultaneously reading Elliott's newest book, The Adderall Diaries, and while reading the oral histories of his childhood friends and acquaintances on therumpus.net. All of these writings deal in some way with the same subject and time period --- so I feel like maybe I will end up remembering all of it in a lump, fictionalized and not.

So, anyway. Elliott has a very clear way of writing without sacrificing description. One...more
Patrick O'Neil
Stephen Elliot's Happy Baby is beautiful. Although I am not saying the subject matter is beautiful. Violence, sadness, desperation, fear, abandonment, and rape - are not subjects that are beautiful. However the book is still beautiful. Elliot's sparse writing style of stripped down quick prose not only gets the job done, but flows with the rhythm, or maybe the pulse, of who he was then - even though it is the "him" of now that is telling us the story. If that makes any sense, I don't know.

Rachel  Cassandra
Dec 30, 2007 Rachel Cassandra rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: humans
this book should really have four and a half stars. i found the format of this novel (progressing backwards by chapter) to be perfectly suited for the subject matter (bdsm, juvenile detention centers, and abuse), and Steven Elliot's observations were simple and true. I have one complaint (don't read this if you're planning to read the book...)we never find out really why he got into the detention center. It drove me a little nuts, especially since that is what started his whole life on this part...more
Feb 07, 2009 Jennifer added it
Recommends it for: anybody
i learned that stephen elliot is a really good writer, and he took me on a little old trip - a trip to those hideous places unplacable orphans and the children of the fantastically inept are placed, and an explanation of why he likes to get beat up in the right way by a woman he is terrified of.
oh man. good but a harrowing read. definitely a poor choice on my part for beach reading.
Erin Beck
I now totally understand why some people like to be beaten while in sexual situations.
ds white
Jul 14, 2008 ds white rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think they are hip if they carry around a book associated with McSweeney's
Recommended to ds by: I liked the cover, hence never judge a book by it's cover or it'
readable but forgetable
Ryan Chapman
Mar 05, 2007 Ryan Chapman rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who are tired of Pahlaniuk
Shelves: fiction
Stephen Elliott's Happy BabyM is a short novel told in reverse chronological order, deftly chronicling in the first person one man's experiences with rape, drugs, abuse, juvenile detention centers, and the brutal effect all those things have on a person in their adult life. A similar technique was employed in the film Irreversible, which, in recounting a rape and its awful effects, casts an air of doom over the chronologically early pre-rape scenes. There is some of that here, though the real in...more
Jun 20, 2007 Avital rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: usa
I'm impressed and also wondering how he dares writing so openly. Is it a part of the need to suffer abuse?
The Village Voice is cited saying it's a heartbreaking autobiographical novel. I do know that his father is still alive-while in the book he isn't.
I find it interesting that instead of using a flashback he goes back in time-starting in the present and moving through the past, everything in the present tense.
The book is a pageturner-why? how/ what makes it this way?

It's been a while since...more
Jason Jordan
Nowadays it’s common for a storyteller to alter the timeline so it doesn’t unfold in chronological order – a la Quentin Tarantino. Again, drawing comparison to film, Stephen Elliott’s Happy Baby (Picador, 2004) plays out much like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. That is, the stories in both the aforementioned film and the novel at hand are told in reverse order, or, more simply, backwards. If you’d like an even more confusing explanation: the stories begin at the end and end at the beginning. In an...more
Happy Baby is a good read, but I don't think it's for everybody. Author Elliott's characters have the same childhoods as most of the people on death row, with plenty of sexual abuse, cruelty, and neglect and as adults they're not in denial. Their adult relationships seem to provide affirmation and acceptance of their roots, all in familiar, nicely described Chicago settings like Devon Avenue, Howard Street, and Jonquil Jungle neighborhoods.
I hesitate with the 4 stars because I don't want to reco...more
happy baby is one of my favorite works of modern lit. elliott deals (as he often does) with what would be normally called transgressive material in a deeply sensitive and haunting way. his words are always deeply marked by the empathy he always has with the most broken of the fragile characters who inhabit his often squalid but strangely beautiful worlds. the narrative is told in rreverse chronological order but never seems gimmicky for the slightest moment. this is a tough, unsentimental, somew...more
Maya Rock
Elliott has a wonderful simple prose style; I found this book very moving, almost tragic. I can't remember the details that well but it's basically about how this guy's messed up childhood (really messed up) impacts his adult life and his sex life in particular. Also he's still somewhat in love with this girl he met at a foster home--actually now that I think about it, I think it was a "group home."

As an aside, I still have strong memories of childhood being a tough, confusing time and it's har...more
That's so weird that I never reviewed this- I just left my review for The Adderall Diaries and saw that I didn't have a rating here. Stephen always says this is his best book, but I think it's just his best pre-Adderall Diaries. They do such different things, though, it's hard to compare them; this is definitely the best novelization of his early life, though. The backwards conceit works well, the prose (as always) is clear and direct and gives you room to feel however you want about it, althoug...more
Jul 30, 2008 Aris rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: kids who went to high school in the city
I started reading Stepehn Elliot based on an article he did about the Linux killer for Salon.com. Something about his voice hooked me. This book reeled me in.

As a side note, probably not great to read this and:A Life Without Consequences in close proximity as they cover similar territory in his semi-autobiographical world.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this book as it gets fairly in depth with his S&M lifestyle, a place I can be reluctant to be led. What grows through the reverse narrati...more
Julia Smillie
I waffled a lot on whether to give this book three or four stars. Sometimes I found the subject matter -- S&M, drugs, sodomy -- difficult to read. Sometimes I found the subject matter -- love, identity, pain, loss -- enveloping. Mostly I liked it. Some passages were searingly beautiful. I think it's a really significant novel, beautifully executed. Having read some of Elliott's nonfiction, it's impossible to read this without knowing that much of it is rooted in reality. I'm not sure whether...more
This book reminded me of how I felt when I had to read The Stranger in high school. Back then I was confused by the existentialist tone and the attitude of the main character, who had a total resignation towards his shitty life as it happened around him. Happy Baby had that similar resignation, but it was one I was well familiar with. Something I used to liken to being stuck in the doldrums at sea. The feeling of helplessness. Of simply being a recipient of mundanity, violence, and existence at...more
Mar 13, 2008 Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all my friends
sad, wise and heartbreaking. what more could you ask for in a book? the writing is first rate and what's even better -- the writer knows what he's talking about. he's lived the life and it's palpable. the book is told in reverse order but, once you understand that, it's not a problem. i read this book right after reading 'the delivery man' by joe mcginess jr. hated that book because it was so false you felt it in every page. hey joe, if you want to know what's it like to write about fucked-up ch...more
This story is well told. I loved the way it was written and the way Elliot sets the scenes: 'The wind is blowing. In the winter, the wind chill is all the only measure that matters. I wish Maria would get here before the cold moves into me permanently.' Despite the sadness that washed over me every time I picked this book up, I did enjoy reading Elliot's portrait of a tormented man. Elliot deals well with the topic - the psychology of abuse and its consequences in a heartfelt way. Would recommen...more
Stephen Elliott is a gifted but not showy writer. I like that about him. This book made me uncomfortable from start to finish -- and I mean that in a good way. Do not let the tales of "deviant" sex distract you from the real focus of this story: one man's heartbreaking story of disappointment, betrayal, and loss of innocence (the story is told in reverse order, starting with him as an adult, finishing as a boy). Somehow, though, his spirit is not broken. He still managed to make me laugh. I also...more
Very unappealing. I'll read a little more, since several people I respect say it is very good.

Okay, I'm about halfway done with this. No doubt I'll finish. It's an amazing book.

Finished this a few days ago. The chapter sequence comes in reverse. At times, I wondered if this technique was too affective. It isn't. The last chapter is powerful. It made me reconsider everyting that had happened to the protagonist and understand a little bit how he'd arrived at the terrible place he did in the firs...more
i'm a big fan of stephen elliott and 'Happy Baby' did not disappoint. very raw, honest, and revealing. i'm amazed at how much of his crazy he shares with us and how much of the ugly and horrifying details of his life he reveals. he tells us the story of his life, as un-pretty as it was, (which sometimes makes your stomach turn upside down and feel like you want to vomit) but without asking for sympathy or taking a 'woe is me' attitude. i can't wait to see how they are going to translate this int...more
Probably the best book with S&M as a backdrop ever written. But don't let that scare you away, because the book is so much more. The story of the protagonist told in reverse time is an interesting and never intrusive narrative device that makes the novel more moving. For budding writers, "Baby" is valuable instruction of the "show, don't tell" rule of crafting prose. The stark clarity of Elliott's writing makes the subject matter more compelling and fits well the grim realism of the story.
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Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books including Happy Baby, a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award, as well as a Best Book of 2004 in Salon.com, Newsday, Chicago New City, Journal News, and Village Voice. Elliott's writing has been featured in Esquire, The New York Times, GQ, Best American Non-Required Reading 2005 & 2007, Best American Erotica, and Best Sex Writ...more
More about Stephen Elliott...
The Adderall Diaries My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up A Life Without Consequences Where to Invade Next Looking Forward to It: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the American Electoral Process

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“You'd be amazed how much fun you can have if you get out of your own head. The problem is that now people are only interested in themselves. What we have is a non-voting generation. That's what they should call you guys, the non-voting generation. You think you can't fix anything until you fix yourselves. Well, let me be the first to tell you, you will never fix yourselves.
p.32 ”
“You think you can't fix anything until you fix yourselves. Well, let me be the first to tell you, you will never fix yourself. p.32” 5 likes
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