"The moose head was fixed to the wall, the microphone in its mouth was broken, but the camera in its left eye was working just fine, and as far as the
"The moose head was fixed to the wall, the microphone in its mouth was broken, but the camera in its left eye was working just fine, and as far as the moose head could see, this was just another Friday night in the Lumber Lodge! Perhaps even more Friday night than most Friday nights."
Thus begins the wild, excellent, wicked~smart ride that is The Happiest People In The World, and this is anything but "just another" Novel... it is quite definitely more Novel than most Novels.
Clarke's most recent work is certainly a book that can hold contradictions, beautifully: It is a lightning fast read, but one that will encourage multiple readings... it is at once a sort of spy novel(but also, not), a playful romp, a darkly & deeply funny literary work, and underneath the fast-paced narrative, a quiet, heart-breaking meditation on the complicated, interlaced relationships that us humans find ourselves in, day~in and day~out. Happiest People is a snapshot of American Culture, as seen by both outsiders of the 'from another country' type, and by the outsiders that are from within this country (which is most of us who vote(or don't) by ballot, or by creative endeavor, or by good hard labor or one kind or another), the policy non-makers, the trend non-setters, the mass of people who are not on the inside, if such a thing exists.
On one level, this novel could be suggesting that there is no inside, nobody in-the-know, and that all that we see happening around us, and all that we are personally enveloped in, is a hodge-podge of splinter groups acting out their lives along vectors that are sometimes lonely, often paranoid, and sometimes crash into others; and this at every level: government, education, in our homes. A horde of everyday people who have, as Aldous Huxley wrote, "failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions" and who will more frequently than not, ruin ourselves in the name of Love. And as sad as that may be, it is pretty damn funny, too, seen in the right light. Like, say, the light of the Lumber Lodge on a Friday night! Brock Clarke shows us to be the broken, but working (sort of) beings that we are, who see what we think we see, and react accordingly.
Were I to set to making a Super Smoothie! of writing that would begin to get at Clarke's creation here, I would have to throw in some (maybe all of) George Saunders for sure, some John le Carré, some Russell Banks, Richard Russo, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Andre Dubus, Tobias Wolff, Andrea Barrett, Joanna Scott, David Sedaris, a dollop of Christopher Buckley, 5 or 6 stories from The Brothers Grimm, a bunch of Tony Hoagland poems, and a solid handful of pages from Them, by Jon Ronson; A House In The Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett; and Driving Mr. Albert, by Mike Paterniti. That's where i'd start, anyway... No doubt, i'd have to work a long time, and throw in a great many more works to really get at the subtlety, complexity, and sheer tastiness of The Happiest People In The World.
Like many people who are gifted, but then add to that gift by working really hard, Clarke makes an incredibly layered, complicated work seem effortless, and as such it is easy to read and fun, but thought-provoking, and poignant as well. No small feat, that. This is a book that I have already recommended widely to my friends, but feel it is one to be recommended widely to all of the reading public.
Do yourself a huge favor and get a hold of The Happiest People In The World! Enjoy.......more
What a gorgeous, heart-breaking novel, rich with detail and human understanding! Though fiction, it breathes with the lives it describes, and could beWhat a gorgeous, heart-breaking novel, rich with detail and human understanding! Though fiction, it breathes with the lives it describes, and could be taken as anthropological text, not only of the peoples of the times and places it is set(and loosely based upon), but also of us supposedly modern humans who love, hurt, inspire, screw things up, and discover ourselves in others. It is a magnificent read, and one that should light up a broad spectrum of those who love books.
It unspools as if on old super-8 stock, but is stunningly clear, too. All scratchy, sepia tones, and shaky, real movements, and riveting in its raw look at things seldom captured in such a way. All too easy to get so caught up in the lives of Nell and Bankson and Fen, that you forget about the technical wizardry of King's laying words down end-to-end, in a structure that is spot-on, and provocative. You seemlessly weave in and out of the two primary narrators' perspectives, and it would seem that you are in different heads, but then, maybe not. Maybe you are exclusively in the head of the anthropologist, who makes it seem like there are objective bits of fact to be seen and explored, but really you are seeing the people, and the culture, as the anthropologist sees them. And this is just many of the incredible facets of this book: that it can put you, fundamentally, in the position of being the anthropoligist. Piecing together the narrative of a people, and of people, from the bits that well up in the river of history. A stunning literary achievement, that is a page turner, too.
And oh my god, some of those sentences! Kudos to King for crafting a number of unforgettable, incredibly layered, finely wrought sentences... This would be one of those times where words, or at least my words, cannot even get close to describing... Well, I suppose it is better to let her words wash over you, and arrest you all on their own.
Euphoria is such a varied collection of types of love, and care, and passion, but also of carelessness, and ambition, and loathing. This is not a summery love tale, or a bucolic version of long ago folks; it is straight-forward and honest, ripe with disease, and rot, and human failure, as much as it is with sublime intangibles. It is beautiful — absolutely — but beautiful because of the care King takes in her raw portrayal of these peoples, as seen through others' eyes.
If I were tasked to choose a painting to cast as perfect analog to this book (which somehow seems apt... not just because of the intriguing cover of the novel, all bright colors and thick-paint-streaks, but because it would be a choice of a very particular vision, a well-thought-out version of a scene or story, as rendered by an artist, with great intuition. A powerfully affecting visual rendering.), it would be truly difficult. You could go so many different ways! The photo-realism of the mid-Nineteenth Century (reacting to the new technology of cameras, to new ways to 'see' and record!)? The earthiness of a Gauguin 'Primitivist' portrait? The electricity and brilliance of a Matisse, both intellectually stimulating in form, and striking in color and kinetic vibrancy? Perhaps the raw, moody emotion of abstraction and subtle color of a Rothko? Better yet, the incredible mash-up (waaay before that was a term) of a painting like Henri Rousseau's "The Dream", painted just before the artist died, and imagined from his avid reading, and visits to the Paris zoo and local hothouses. That one would definitely be in the running...
I suppose I might alight on Magritte's "The Titanic Days", completed in the year Margaret Mead's Coming of Age In Samoa was published and several years before Nell, Fen and Bankson meet up in Euphoria. Using the age old tools of blues and greys and a myriad of skin tones, and of the story of struggle between a man and a woman (or more likely between 'Woman' and 'Man'), he renders something modern, and eerily beautiful, but unsettling, and maybe a little nauseating. It is nothing if not arresting. My guess is it was long in the making, an elaborate process to realize what appears to be a simple vision, or maybe the manifestation of a bit of a dream. You'd really need the whole of a bunch of museums to even begin to get at all that is in this book, but for a thought-experiment, the sophisticated, inventive simplicity of "The Titanic Days" will do. For me. I'd be curious to hear what painting you would choose....
For this novel inspires conversation and will confound people in their efforts to slot it into a single category, as much as it will cause introspection and reflection. It is one of those things, I think, that people will try to peg, so as to describe to others, but will have to go off into other mediums to sort of give an idea of what the words did to them.
But, Lily King's Euphoria, is a book, not a painting, and it is well-worth reading. My guess is, it is well-worth re-reading, and I look forward to my next trip into it, so as to get even more out of this stunning gem of a book.
I can truthfully say that about all four of King's books, but this one, even more so. To quote King, quoting Nell Stone, who is talking about her work:
"...at that moment the place feels entirely yours. Its the briefest, purest euphoria."
That is the experience I had of reading this novel. I wanted it to go on longer, but was amazed by the purity of my elation, my brief euphoria.