Monday, September 27, 2010

Vintage Novels {Something Happened}


Last fall, I took an American Lit course on the subject of the male mid-life crises in the later half of the 20th Century and this is one of the novels that we read. I thought about doing a post about it then, but I didn't think it was fitting at that point, so instead I wrote my term paper on it.
Given the self-reflection that Don Drapper is going through this season, I think that the time is right to talk about it. Something Happened is Josph Heller's long awaited second novel and it didn't do as well as Catch-22 did. This is mostly because it's very difficult to read, mostly because there is no plot, in a traditional sense.
The entire novel, which is extremely long, is Bob Slocum's reflection on his life, experiences, job, family life and his (negative) opinions of those that he interacts with. Something Happened is basically what Don's life would have been like in ten years had Betty not divorced him. Bob's wife is a bored and not aging very well, his daughter is a teenager and rebelling against everything. His middle son, whom he loves more then anything is quiet, not doing well at school and is terrified of everything and only wants to please his father. Bob is ashamed of his youngest son (the only member of his family that he names) because he has mental problems and hurts Bob's social standing because they can't talk about him in public for fear that the family would be judged.
You may have noticed how dark and sad Don's thoughts are. That is the tone of the entire novel. Bob is afraid of everything, especially of his co-workers, who are in turn afraid of each other. Bob is also afraid of the social changes the are happening in the Seventies, afraid that his wife will discover his numerous affairs, afraid of what his children will grow up to be. Essentially, Bob is afraid of life. The entire novel is about nothing happening until the very end and it is up to you to determine whether Bob is telling himself the truth in the last chapter about how the thing that happened has changed him or if he is just lying to himself.
Something Happened is not an easy or a fun book to read. But you should read it if you want to understand the mind-set of Bob and Don's generation as they enter middle age and the Seventies and how they are dealing with all of the social and cultural changes that happened in the Sixties and how they are coping with the rise of the Baby Boom generation and how they see their role in a rapidly changing society that they can't do anything about because they fear change.

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