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Something Happened (1974)

by Joseph Heller

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2,104215,324 (3.42)61
"As it opens, he 'gets the willies.' At the end, he has 'taken command.' What happens in 'Something Happened' happens to Bob Slocum -- in his forties, contending with his office...trying to come to grips with his wife...with his daughter...with his son...and with his other son, and with his own past and his own present....(What happens?) Something."… (more)
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» See also 61 mentions

English (20)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (21)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
I want to read this solely based on the excerpt included in Alfie Kohn's book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, which literally brought me to tears:

""I try to give him a will to win. He doesn't have one...He passes the basketball deliberately -- he does it deliberately, Mr. Slocum, I swear he does. Like a joke. He throws it away -- to some kid on the other team just to give him a chance to make some points or to surprise the kids on his own team. For a joke. That's some joke, isn't it? ... When he's ahead in one of the relays, do you know what he does? He starts laughing. He does that. And then slows down and waits for the other guys to catch up. Can you imagine? The other kids on his team don't like that. That's no way to run a race, Mr. Slocum. Would you say that's a way to run a race?"
"No." I shake my head and try to bury a smile. Good for you, kid, I want to cheer out loud... for I can visualize my boy clearly far out in front in one of his relay races, laughing that deep, reverberating, unrestrained laugh that sometimes erupts from him, staggering with merriment as he toils to keep going and motioning liberally for the other kids in the race to catch up so they can all laugh together and run alongside each other as they continue their game (after all, it's only a game)."
  magonistarevolt | Apr 24, 2020 |
Family dynamics and office politics are explored with acerbic wit in the ranting, eccentric ramblings of our sleaze ball narrator in Something Happened. The internal monologue is so steeped in hate and vindictive self-righteousness that it will easily polarize half the readers. But following the main character’s galloping train of thought is like having a lucid nightmare. The endless parentheses and asides, pages dripping with spittle and spite ring true to me. You don’t have to agree with anything the narrator says, or the author, for that matter.

Is it possible to write a great American novel about the depressing lie of the American dream? How oppressive and selfish it is? How the American dream every salesman, and most every man dreams, can quite possibly lead to personal tragedy? More than that though, I feel that most people can sympathize with the self-destructive tendencies of our over-stimulated, Consumerist state of mind. In this book there are a plethora of self-created problems. It reads like the sorry tale you might hear if you interviewed the well-dressed man at the end of most of the bars in America. Even so, it is indicative of, and a product of, the time in which it was written. Open commentary, racism, misogyny and nihilism played for cheap laughs, lascivious daydreaming, anxiety-ridden whimpering, and a slew of other incantatory criticisms, extrapolated and examined endlessly from a solitary point of view.

In the end, after the storm passes, a vast emptiness is left in its wake. Perhaps it is a warning against perpetuation, an entreaty to make more of an effort at kindness. More likely, it is a purgative, a way to become conscious of the little devil on your shoulder, who whispers bad things, who always points out how fat or lazy people are, which is always pointlessly going on about stupidity, incompetence and denial. The trap of self-loathing and of loathing everyone and everything is almost more natural than complacency, than quiet acceptance. It is possible to be alone, even around other people, but it is never necessary.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is an established classic, cause for much grumbling in high school English classrooms, and is a more positive satire.

But if you aren’t scared of a little negativity, if you find you can rise above complainers and reflect upon the sheer volume of complaining that warrants tuning out, then there is a lot of value in this prolonged tirade against the cruel and inhuman state of our own minds, enmeshed in a prison society of corporate greed and filial pressures. Love it or hate it, you will not set the book down unmoved. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
"I know at last what I want to be when I grow up. When I grow up I want to be a little boy"

Firstly I have to say that the title of this novel is a bit of a misnomer because virtually nothing happens until the last two pages and my copy was 550+ pages long.

Truthfully the only character in this novel is Bob Slocum, an executive in his forties with an unnamed corporation. Although he tells us about his family and his colleagues we only hear his opinion of them. His family are filled with the qualities that Slocum has given them whereas he fears his colleagues and they fear him. Everyone appears to be suffering in some way.

"I frequently feel I'm being taken advantage of merely because I'm asked to do the work I'm paid to do."

Much of the novel is in the form of first-person narratives predominantly about the narrator, yet despite him being a promising and affluent executive with an attractive wife, three children, a nice house and as many mistresses as he wants he is still unhappy and feels that something is missing in his life. According to the blurb this is 'an expose of the horrors of prosperity and peace' but I found Slocum a whining, self-pitying misogynist and is a very distasteful character. He visits and revisits key moments of his past in particular his teenage flirtations with a former colleague called Virginia, which I personally found monotonous and tedious.

In fact tedium would best describe my opinion of this book. Whilst Slocum does have a fairly hypnotic voice I found myself struggling to stay awake and turn the next page. In particular I hated the author's overuse of brackets, some of them contained over a page of prose, meaning that I sometimes forgot what had gone before and had to re-read it. In contrast the dialogue when it appeared I found quite pithy and amusing. I did manage to finish the book but in all honesty I cannot say that I would recommend it to others. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jan 2, 2020 |
Underrated second book is more subtle but wicked in ironic humor. Attack on corporate American society. ( )
  atufft | Jul 4, 2019 |
Joseph Heller’s claim to fame was "Catch 22"… a black comedy about the military service. "Something Happened" is also labeled a black comedy- so I was prepared for a unique story- something quirky, dark, and cynical. It’s black, quirky, and cynical alright, but I must have missed the comedy portion.

The story is written in stream of conscious format with Bob Slocum narrating. From the very beginning it is obvious Bob is different. The opening sentence is, “I get the willies when I see closed doors.” Unhappy, self-centered, angry, insecure, disappointed in life both in his job and marriage- all obvious. But dangerous? Scary? Mentally deranged? That remains to be seen. One sure thing, Bob Slocum is not a likable character.

In 1974 when "Something Happened" was written the sexual revolution was in full swing. After decades of forced modesty, strict rules on sexual behavior (especially for girls), young women were suddenly realizing it was okay to have sex before marriage. And many unhappily married couples realized it was okay to break the rules, and if they got caught divorce was okay too.

But something did indeed happen in Bob Slocum’s life. He has no morals, no scruples, no respect for women. I don’t think he likes women. In fact, he harbors ill-will towards everyone. He goes way beyond having casual affairs with mutually consenting women. He visits prostitutes, picks up strangers regularly which would be no-one’s business but his own if he were not a married man with children. He thinks about divorce a lot. Wishes his wife would cheat on him so he could have grounds for divorce. But then he can’t decide if he would leave her or kill her. His imagination is unlimited. He has violent thoughts, and a depressing outlook.

And he lies. He contradicts himself in self-analysis- lies to himself. As the story unfolds the readers starts to question the validity of Bob’s thoughts. Bob seems to be coming unhinged.

Joseph Heller is good at character development, and dialogue. I wasn’t crazy about the plot. Many reviews of Something Happened complain of the repetition of the writing, rehashing the same information over and over, but isn’t that a normal part of the thinking process? Repeating one’s thoughts expresses truly authentic stream-of-conscious writing. "Something Happened" would be good fodder for book clubs... especially with the “Me Too” movement in full swing. Because according to Bob Slocum the women were just as frequently the aggressors. But then again, could you really trust Bob Slocum’s judgement? ( )
  LadyLo | May 14, 2019 |
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"As it opens, he 'gets the willies.' At the end, he has 'taken command.' What happens in 'Something Happened' happens to Bob Slocum -- in his forties, contending with his office...trying to come to grips with his wife...with his daughter...with his son...and with his other son, and with his own past and his own present....(What happens?) Something."

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