I purchased Something Happened hoping that some of Heller’s Catch 22 glory—cult classic, literary masterpiece, all round stab at war and man and the big stuff—might have rubbed off. It sure did, but in a different way—Something Happened is a desperate, suffocating, sad stab at the middle-class American man—in an internal monologue that is awful and perfect and... nothing I say about it can do it justice. American Beauty eat your heart out! You can only dream about being this real.
Bob Slocum is the anti-hero of an awful expose of a man... 559 pages of honesty and dirt and quiet desperation and repetition and soul searching. It’s very difficult to describe in such a way as to do the story justice. Bob Slocum is a regular guy—with all the artifice and social niceties stripped away. He describes his relationships with his wife, children, colleagues, and social mores with complete honesty, and the battle for the reader is to work out how they feel about this character who is baring his soul and living his desperate existence. Whoever said it’s the little things that count was right—this story is a compilation of the tiny building blocks that separately, one would disregard as unimportant, but together build the complete picture of a man. Is he good? Is he bad? How much do you, as the reader, relate to Bob and how does that make you feel? You might ask yourself these questions over and over as you read, but it won’t stop you from getting to something happening...
Probably the way to do this book justice is to consider how many other works try this subject matter and don’t manage as well. Something Happened achieves exactly what the movie American Beauty would have liked to (although I don’t know that you could possibly translate Something Happened into a movie). It is like a far less extreme version of Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (and therefore in some ways more affective). It could have been the diving board for the English TV Mocumentary “The Office” for it’s investigation into office life. It contains a little of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s the Great Gatsby but without the beauty and with far less romance.
All in all, I strongly recommend this book for anyone who wants a good (but depressing) read—but with some reservations. Joseph Heller is so masterful that he gets into your head. Just remember, you aren’t Bob Slocum. You’re you. With a different selection of problems. Make you feel better? Probably not. But read it anyway.
You might as will give the rest of Joseph Heller a whirl. And for a less intense peek at the anti-American dream, I recommend Brett Eastern Ellis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Virgin Suicides (very different, but leaves you feeling lost the way this one does). However, none of these books are quite like Something Happened.