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The Pursuit of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy
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The Pursuit of Happiness (2010)

by Douglas Kennedy

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  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Douglas Kennedy has a way of capturing the tumult that is life - the swings between highs and lows, the drama, the staleness, and everything in between - and doing so in such a way that utterly captivates the reader. He does so this time while highlighting one of the darkest periods in American post-war history. While the post-WWII era is typically considered one of bucolic happiness, The Pursuit of Happiness explores the fleeting spirit that is happiness and the challenges faced by everyone during the very tumultuous McCarthy era.

Mr. Kennedy uses a change in narrators to the maximum effect. The story starts out as Kate is attending the funeral of her mother. Her father passed a long time ago, and as the reader digs into the narrative, Kate is only just beginning to understand and accept how her life has changed now that she is an orphan, albeit an adult orphan with a child of her own. A reader is immediately drawn into Kate's likability. She has just gone through a very tough emotional experience and is still fragile. When Sara enters the scene, as an unknown in her family's past and possible threat, the reader immediately feels protective of Kate. Her unease, concern, fear, and anger becomes the reader's own emotions. Just as the reader gets comfortable and sympathizes with Kate, he switches to Sara telling her story. Gradually, a reader is drawn into dueling emotions as one cannot help but empathize with Kate while at the same time sympathizing with Sara as she shares her painful familial past. This allows the reader to continue to experience Kate's unseen reactions as one's own and drives home the sense of confusion, hurt, wonder, and pity at everything Sara shares.

Mr. Kennedy specializes in addressing little-known or vaguely familiar periods in history and bringing them to life. The Pursuit of Happiness is no different. While taking the reader on an unparalleled emotional roller coaster, Mr. Kennedy includes the horrors inspired by Joseph McCarthy and the Un-American Activities Committee, the fear being named induced in people, what it meant to be blacklisted, and the lengths people were willing to go to avoid being blacklisted. Under Mr. Kennedy's pen, the McCarthyism scare is eerily reminiscent of today's war on terror and the all-encompassing Department of Homeland Security, and for that reason deserves to be studied in depth to ensure that Americans do not fall prey to the same mass hysteria that occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The Pursuit of Happiness is one of those books that is completely captivating and thoroughly enjoyable throughout all 592 of its pages. In fact, a reader will not mind the length because the story is so well told. Sara, Eric, and Jack's stories become more than words on a page, as their characters have a sense of authenticity and reality that makes it easy for readers to believe that this is a work of non-fiction. His ability to understand his characters and allow readers to understand them just as well is only one of the perks of the novel. The others include understanding more of the hysteria that took over the country, the difficulties that befell women and homosexuals at this most conservative of periods, and a story that will affect a reader deeply. As this is the second novel of Mr. Kennedy's of which I have had the pleasure of reading, he has grown into one of my favorite modern-day authors, and I eagerly anticipate his next novel.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Atria Books for my review copy!
  jmchshannon | May 3, 2012 |
A Great read. I learnt about the McCarthy era and witch hunts as well. I intend to read more of this author. ( )
  HelenBaker | Dec 5, 2009 |
This book really should come under ‘boring mush,’ because it doesn’t cover much other than matters of the heart, but I can’t do that. This book is so incredibly well-written, that it seems to be so much more than that. I couldn’t put this down (or rather, I could, only because I didn’t want it to end, I was enjoying reading it that much – a rare thing!).

The book starts off from the point of view of Kate, a recently divorced single mother with a young son. Her mother has just died (the author really throws you into the deep end, emotionally!), and she is hoping for some time alone to mourn, but keeps receiving phone calls and letters from a woman named Sara Smythe. Eventually she goes round to her apartment to ask for the harassment to stop, finding her apartment covered in photos of her and her brother. The author makes Sara seem like a stalker, a strange old woman, but then it switches to Sara’s point of view. She has given Kate a book, in which she tells her (exciting!) life-story, and this is the major chunk of the book.

I loved the characters, and I was amazed that the author is male – both points of view are from female characters, and it’s rare when authors can relate to the opposite sex so well. He has every emotion and feeling down completely, and has the most amazing way with words. I wish I was able to make my feelings that clear!

I cannot recommend this book enough. This is definitely going to be one of my ultimate favourites, that I will actually re-read later on (the other one that comes to mind that’s similar to this is Paullina Simons’ Tully, which I feel the same way about). ( )
  lecari | Jul 9, 2009 |
I engaged with this book despite thinking I would hate it. I was absorbed into the story of Sara, the main character and read with interest about her life over the years. Eric, her brother, was also interestingly portrayed. I know nothing about the communism but the sub plot in the novel regarding this inspired me to find out more. To me, this was a touching and at times harrowing read that dealt with all aspect of the human psyche. ( )
  JeaniusOak | Aug 24, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Douglas Kennedyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vroege, MireilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We do not what we ought; what we ought not, we do; and lean upon the thought that chance will bring us through. - Matthew Arnold
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I first saw her standing near my mother's coffin.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0091794374, Hardcover)

Physical description: 519 p. ; 24 cm. Subjects: New York (N. Y. ) - Fiction. Summary: Manhattan, Thanksgiving Eve 1945. War is over and Eric Smythe's party is swinging. Everyone is there, including his sister Sara. Then in walks the gatecrasher - Jack Malone, an army journalist fresh from a defeated Germany. This chance meeting between Sara and Jack will have profound consequences

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:21 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

New York, 1945 - Sara Smythe, a young, beautiful and intelligent woman, ready to make her own way in the big city attends her brothers Thanksgiving Eve party. As the party gets into full swing, in walks Jack Malone, a US Army journalist back from a defeated Germany and a man unlike any Sara has ever met before - one who is destined to change Sara's future forever. But finding love isn't the same as finding happiness - as Sara and Jack soon find out. In post-war America chance meetings aren't always as they seem, and people's choices can often have profound repercussions. Sara and Jack find they are subject to forces beyond their control and that their destinies are formed by more than just circumstance. In this world of intrigue and emotional conflict, Sara must fight to survive -against Jack, as much as for him. In this mesmerising tale of longing and betrayal, The Pursuit of Happiness is a great tragic love story; a tale of divided loyalties, decisive moral choices, and the random workings of destiny.… (more)

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