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It Happened in Boston?

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  359 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
First published by Random House in 1968, Russell H. Greenan’s It Happened in Boston? is the story of a brilliantly talented, unbalanced artist who strives to meet God face-to-face in order to destroy Him. It is “a magic spell of a book—phantasmagoric, lushly written, full of unforgettable characters and brilliant twists of plot,” writes Jonathan Lethem in his Introduction. ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 16th 2003 by Modern Library (first published 1968)
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Robert Fass This great review of the audiobook appeared on the site of book blogger

"I had never heard of It Happened in Boston? before…more
This great review of the audiobook appeared on the site of book blogger

"I had never heard of It Happened in Boston? before narrator Robert Fass contacted me about this project. After hearing Fass’ story on publishing the audiobook and doing some research on author Russell H. Greenan, I decided it would be worthwhile to give this audiobook a listen. I hadn’t gotten far into the audiobook at the time I interviewed Robert Fass about the project, but I was already enjoying it. The novel’s narrator, a man who gives many names to his neighbor’s son but remains unnamed throughout, is a magnificently talented painter living in Boston in the 1960s. He was trained by a classical painter and from the very beginning I was delighted by the passages describing art and the making of art. I don’t consider myself an art lover, but novels about art and artists are some of my favorites. For me, It Happened in Boston? paid off from the beginning.

When the novel opens, we meet the narrator as an artist who no longer creates art. We learn along the way that he has become consumed by personal heartbreak and spends his days in what he calls reveries, daydreams so vivid he almost believes he’s traveled to points across the globe and time with the automatic ability to speak the native language. There is something off about the narrator and, while one wonders what is real and what is fantasy, I was intensely interested in the unfolding story of his life and work. He was a highly ethical man who talent that could have net him fortunes if he weren’t. As he and his friends are met with misfortune, his desire to hold God accountable grows. In his heart he asked a question asked by so many. He wanted to know why good people suffered. As the complete story unfolded it was horrifying to see the lengths that the narrator would go to to show God how unjust and wrong God was.

Robert Fass worked hard to make this audiobook edition of It Happened in Boston? a reality. It came to me as no surprise that this passion for the novel would come through in his narration. This was my first time listening to one of his audiobooks and it was a pleasure. He gave voice to characters both young and old distinctly and well. I especially love his work with the character Beels, whose role in the story was wonderful in and of itself. For me, discovering this book and Fass’ narration were equal gifts.

While this audiobook was just released last month, reading this book cemented my resolve to focus on backlist titles. I have become too focused on new, shiny releases and, while many of those are excellent reads, I’ve never read anything quite like this. I love books about art, but in this book Greenan created some of the most beautiful and arresting works of art in my mind. I would love to be able to see the narrator’s classical paintings or Littleboy’s Birth of Death with my eyes, they are forever now in the gallery of my imagination. They are just as real there. I know this for sure because there are moments in this book that tore my heart out. Then there was the narrator and his determination to meet and destroy God. As that story line developed, his thoughts on God and justice turned into a twisted Don Quixote quest which overtook him. I couldn’t help but be fascinated and horrified.

If you haven’t read It Happened in Boston?, you must. This novel provides so much to think about and replay in your mind. Robert Fass’ narration provided the perfect medium for experiencing this story of art, betrayal, and the desire to punish God. Once you’ve read it, you will want others to as well. This is a book you need to talk about."

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 763)
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Sep 15, 2014 Elise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
The first time I read "It Happened in Boston?" I was in high school, and it was assigned to my creative writing class. I was reminded of how much I loved this underrated gem of a book last week, when I stumbled across it at a book fair. Mind you, what I found there was a 1968, first edition of "It Happened in Boston?" which cost me only a dollar, and oh what a find! After reading it again so many years later, I realize that Greenan's exquisite prose and his unique imagination have not lost any o ...more
Tyler Jones
Feb 13, 2011 Tyler Jones rated it really liked it
Italo Calvino, in trying to pin-down what we meant by the "classics" of literature, suggested picturing an imaginary bookcase on which the forces of time and fame determined which books earned a place. Some books come and go, while others seem to have found a permanent home there. Perhaps there are many other such metaphysical bookcases for books other than classics; more modest, perhaps, but each with its own merit. Perhaps there are as many as there are readers. The bookcase we must imagine no ...more
Jul 28, 2012 Hakim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: splendicity, weird
Russel H. Greenan's It Happened in Boston ? is nothing short of perfect. It is a truly magnificent story of artistic genius, paranoia, deceit, reveries and murder.
The author's quite impressive range of vocabulary, his frantic narrative style and all the endearing (or not so likeable) characters made this reading experience exquisite.
I haven't read a book quite like this one before. It really is genre-bending.
In a nutshell, if you're into bizarre stories with unreliable narrators and brilliant
Feb 03, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
I found this book in a thrift store in Texas. I had this tendency when I lived there to go to the thrift store and open books whose titles or covers or descriptions interested me and read the first chapter. If the first chapter grabbed me, I would generally pick up the book, as even the hard covers were only a dollar. So a little warning to those who dare look into this one: it will start getting to you before you even finish the first chapter (which is one page long).

If you've ever longed for a
Jan 29, 2016 Andrew rated it it was amazing
This is the single most influential book - influential, that is, on my own reading tastes - that I've ever read.

It has one of the most compelling opening lines in any novel ever written. and it just gets better with each page.

The quality of the prose alone is enough to make it worth reading.

It has a great story, mystery, suspense, amazing characters and a satisfying (if perplexing) denouement.

I defy you to find a more bizarre and compelling novel. It can't be done. It doesn't exist. I know that
Nov 09, 2008 SmartAleq rated it it was amazing
I just recently rediscovered Russell Greenan--I read this book when I was a kid (book was published in 1968 and I had the paperback so I probably first read it in '69 or so) because my mom handed it to me--what was she thinking?! I mean, just because the protagonist is a serial killer, that's no reason a ten year old shouldn't read it, right? The thing was, I loved this book and have probably read it about a thousand times over the years, but probably not once in the last twenty, since I lost my ...more
Jan 29, 2014 Amy rated it really liked it
I really had no idea where this book was going. It starts out with a man who sits on a park bench and experiences "reveries" which seem like lo-fi time travel (or basically a vivid imagination transporting oneself to another era). Then we get all kinds of backstory about this man's life as an artist. From there things get wild. Scandals! Murder! Backstabbing! Pretty delightful..
Gordon Scott
Apr 23, 2014 Gordon Scott rated it it was amazing
I first read this when I was 16, not long after it was published. It remains my favourite novel of all time. A few years back I received a Christmas card from Russell, hand written, in response to a comment I made on his web site. What a treasure. I can't add anything to the reviews here, only join with the others to recommend you read this book without delay.
Robert Fass
Dec 19, 2014 Robert Fass rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
It Happened in Boston? is one of those books that stays with you forever. Vivid, fantastic, clever, audacious as hell. Wonderful.

Breaking news update: It will be my honor and pleasure to narrate the audiobook of It Happened in Boston? which will be released at the end of 2014.
Nov 18, 2007 Stephen rated it really liked it
I read this book 4 or 5 years ago & remember loving it enough to pick it as my Staff Selection at Green Apple. So far, my fond memories seem justified.
Oct 02, 2014 erase-rwd rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-away, 2014
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 17, 2013 WordsBeyondBorders rated it really liked it
பிரசுரிககபபடடபின ஒரு புததகததின பயணததை யாராலும எளிதில கணிகக முடியாது. சில நூலகள முதலிலேயே விமரசக/வரவேறபபை பெறறு, காலம செலல அதன முககியததுவம குறையலாம. சில, வெளி வநத காலததில கவனம ஈரககாமல ஒரு தலைமுறை கழிதது கூட புகழ பெறலாம, அதுவரை ஒரு சிறிய வடடததிறகுளளேயே இநத நூல அதிகம பேசபபடடுககொணடிருககும . சில நூலகள வெளிவநத காலததிறகு மிக நவீனமானதாக இருநது அபபோது ஏறகபபடாமல போகலாம, அதறகு நேர மாறாக ஒரு காலததின நாடியைப (zeitgeist) பிடிததுப பாரதது நலன சொலலும நூலகள அடுதது வரும காலகடடததிறகு அநநியமாக இருககலாம. அலலது ஆசிரிய ...more
Jun 03, 2009 ES rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-the-crapper
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 24, 2010 Jacob rated it really liked it
Strangest book I've ever read.

Let me try to sum it up. An extremely talented artist is going insane after some very unfortunate events happen in his life. The book goes from the past, where he is learning his craft and becoming somewhat famous, to the present where he's given up artistry to pursue his new life goal of becoming God, killing the old God and rebuilding the world to better suit his views. Also he likes to sit in the nearby park and reverie. During this state, he lives the life of s
Feb 28, 2012 Daniel rated it it was amazing
In spite of its literary brilliance and its narrative genius, there will be people who won't like Boston?. I don't say this as a lofty proclamation or to cast aspersions on those folks. Consider a five-star restaurant's most expensive and well-touted fresh salmon entree. It may, in fact, be a meal of the highest quality and finest ingredients, but, hey, some people just don't like fish.

This book is populated by intriguing characters (our artistically brilliant and unnamed protagonist's goal is t
Brent Legault
Dec 12, 2011 Brent Legault rated it liked it
While reading this novel I often stopped to think, "Is this a flawed masterpiece or is it just a silly novel with veins of genius?" I never could decide. It's certainly a novel of linguistic excess, sometimes to its detriment. For example, many pages are devoted to what are, in effect, montages, meant to move the plot along without having to do much in the way of scene. In a movie, montage might hold your attention or it might be a good time to get more popcorn. In a book, it always makes me ski ...more
Jack Strange
May 09, 2016 Jack Strange rated it it was amazing
A great novel which crosses genres, breaks rules, pushes boundaries, and ends with a breathtaking deus ex machina - and actually gets away with it!

It contains horror for the horror fan, suspense for the thriller fan, and more than enough profound thought for those who want to be challenged intellectually by their reading matter. If you don't want that challenge, you can read it for pure enjoyment.

Everyone who loves literature should read this book.

What are you waiting for?

Elijah Kinch Spector
Nov 19, 2015 Elijah Kinch Spector rated it really liked it
"Lately I have come to feel that the pigeons are spying on me." This quickly became one of my favorite opening lines, and it lays out the experience before you as well as any single line could.

It would take an incredibly long time to describe all the wonderful aspects to It Happened In Boston. I haven't the time, but it's a very funny, bizarre, disturbing, and well-written book. On top of all that, it's also very enjoyable and entertaining, which is important.

Without giving too much away: it's a
May 25, 2015 Quinn rated it liked it
I really respect this book and I liked certain things about it but I didn't LOVE it. I can see falling in love with it more if I read it for the first time in high school. It feels like it should be required reading. Unique, for sure.
Aug 10, 2008 Jacob rated it really liked it
I bought this book because of the curious title, the interesting cover art, and a back cover blurb that mentioned time travel.

Whether or not time travel is a part of the plot is debatable.

The event depicted in the cover never actually occurs in the story.

But I still really liked the book despite feeling somewhat conned by the marketing department. Sprawling and enthralling, with a clever resolution to the mini-caper that sneaks up on you and a very nice twist towards the end where the story th
Justin Mitchell
Oct 01, 2013 Justin Mitchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My second time reading this, and it remains one of my favorites. While Greenan's other books are so-so, this one, his first, is a masterpiece that hits so many of the major chords of twentieth century literature but manages to be thoroughly entertaining at the same time. It's basically the story of an artist going insane in the way only an artist can--seeking to overcome and replace God by having absolute power over the world. However, he learns by the end the limits of his ability and how at th ...more
Paul Spencer
Apr 19, 2012 Paul Spencer rated it it was amazing
One of the strangest books I've ever read. It is obscure, but for those who have a Alfred Hitchcock taste, this is the book for you.

I found this book in a used book store in Brisbane Australia and bought it because of the word Boston in the title. I guess I was a little homesick at the time.

When I started reading, I couldn't put it down. This good, but starving artist gets suckered by his wife and his agent who are having an affair.
They also steal all his art works and leave him with nothing.

Irving Karchmar
Apr 22, 2013 Irving Karchmar rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this surreal masterpiece, though the editor who approved the title should be fired. A brilliant and crazed artist wants to meet God, and though he has found a way to do so, he must kills innocent souls to do so. And that is just one of the plots; the others involve art forgery, reveries in which the artist takes on personas of past lives, and a mix of metaphysical beauty and 60's mayhem. I have reread it a few times, and always find something new to enjoy. I think Greenan only o ...more
Oct 25, 2007 Blue rated it it was amazing
I read this book after finding it at a bookstore I worked at when I was seventeen. Completely absorbing, strange too. Nightmarish, deep. I have to re-read it. I still have the same copy amongst my books. Recommended for its hair-raising conclusions and denouement. Images from it culled by the prose remain in my subconscious to this day. At the time one of the best novels I had read apart from Dostoevsky, whom I may compare Greenan to.
Footnote: in all of my encounters with the literary and writer
Feb 06, 2016 Jenn rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Disturbing. It was a difficult novel to wade through and it took me a few weeks to finish. I suspect the main character to be autistic. The ideas presented and storyline were quite unlike anything else I've read and the language was wonderful.
Leroy Brookens
May 22, 2015 Leroy Brookens rated it did not like it
Why are there no negative numbers on this rating? I want my time back.
Nov 12, 2014 Joy rated it it was amazing
I read this book just before the Chicago Tylenol murders. It seemed plausible.
Robert Wechsler
Apr 11, 2013 Robert Wechsler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-lit
A very pleasant surprise. The narrators voice is the novels greatest accomplishment. It is intelligent but matter-of-fact, even as the story and the narrator become increasingly crazy. In fact it is the tension between the voice and the narrator that allows the story to work. Theres something exhilarating about the novel, despite the pitiful narrator and the fact that you can never believe what he says, although you do. Just like reality, only more so. Its a great spin on the dramatic monologue. ...more
Jul 14, 2016 Olivia rated it it was ok
Shelves: art-artists
It Happened in Boston trundles merrily on its way in a thoroughly undistinguished but competent fashion until, on page thirty or so, the murder is announced. Has bung in a murder before page thirty now replaced show don’t tell as the First Commandment? So common is it in modern literature that you’d think murder was now an everyday occurrence in people’s lives, as if you’d hardly bat an eyelid at dinner were your boyfriend to tell you his boss had been stabbed today with a pair of garden shears ...more
Dec 11, 2010 Enzo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It has been four months since I read this, so I'm pretty lost on details, but I have found myself thinking back to this book a couple of times (and as far as I am concerned, this is a pretty big sign that it was a great book) and some very emotional scenes in it.

The künstlerroman aspect was really well done. As Chabon says in his introduction, there is a real feeling of loss when tragic things happen toward the end. I can't talk about it much without going into details, though. I think this one
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What's The Name o...: An artist kills seven people so he can meet God [s] 11 83 Feb 07, 2014 04:24AM  
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Greenan grew up in the Bronx, had a tour of duty in the US Navy, and after attending Long Island University on the G.I. Bill, went to live in Boston in the early 1950s. For several years he worked as a traveling salesman selling industrial machine parts in remote corners of New England. His savings enabled him to travel to Nice, France where he stayed for a year to write. On his return to Boston h ...more
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