David Newman's Reviews > Something Happened

Something Happened by Joseph Heller
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's review
May 16, 10

Read in January, 2008

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, confronting the absurdity and randomness of life. We are witnesses to the full horror of this painful realization. For close to 600 pages, Bob Slocum screams out to us a plea for understanding, a plea perhaps predicated on the idea that if he can reach us, take us inside his reality, then maybe his alienation and loneliness will be alleviated. Why else would he be telling us all this stuff? Page after page he drones on with an endless repetition of the mundane minutiae of his pathetic existence. This is not the result of sloppy writing or editing. No, this is a novel which is intentionally tedious. So why am I suggesting you read it? Because Joseph Heller is a master of conveying the essence of the gut-wrenching dread that modern man and woman experience as they search for meaning in an ever-expanding universe of emptiness. The author thankfully makes this task more palatable through the use of understated irony and clever, albeit self-conscious, word play. No, this is not Catch-22. This is not a fun novel and its rewards are to be found not in its humor (which is certainly there), but in our identification with and empathy for the main character. A character, who, even with all his foibles and blemishes, is ultimately extremely sympathetic. Although at times I had my doubts, I am glad I persisted with this under-appreciated masterpiece.
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