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Book review: <i>Something Happened</i> by Joseph Heller

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.

The content

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.

Who is this book for?

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.

If you like this book, you would also like...

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.

In short

Title Something Happened
Author Joseph Heller
Publisher Corgi
ISBN 0552102202
Year 1975
Pages 559
Review Type: 


Hi Bridget,

Liked your review. Didn't think anyone else read this stuff. I just finished "Something Happened," and was entranced.

A suggestion for further reading: "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker. It's non-fiction, a treatise about mortality through a neo-Freudian lens. Kind of a non-fiction version of Heller's book. If anything, it will deepen your appreciation for Heller because of how dead-on he is from a Freudian perspective with his interior Bob Slocum monologue.

Another book you might enjoy is "The Fermata" by Nicholson Baker. More interiority, but much less depressing. Very witty.

Matthew Weflen

Hi Matthew.

I'm always on the look out for quality reading material - I'll take your advice and try and get my hands on them.


Bridget :-)

One of the scenes in Shakespeare´s novel sums up the whole of Something happened. Beautifully done!!!! None of these authors ever forgotten.
It´s a man´s world....

I know this is an American site. However I would like a bit more dept in the previews of this novel. What about the hilarious black humour this novel is filled with. What about the actuality of the father role in the modern family life?
Read it again and write a new review!

What makes you think I'm American? I'm actually an Australian - as are all my reviewers. I have to admit, this is one of the first reviews I ever wrote, so maybe it is lacking. I did read and write the review while travelling central America, so I was kinda under pressure - sorry it didn't live up to what you think a review should be! Maybe I'll revisit it sometime.



Anxious father is just the forename of this novel. Every parent is ridden with anxiety for how their children is getting on in the world(their little world) Joseph Heller manages to describe this in a way that makes you smell the fear of the child and father and still manage to laugh at him(the father)
This is black humour at it`s best.

I'm a high school student living in Oklahoma, USA. I really want to read this novel now that I've read the review you wrote for it, even though it's two years old. I'm doing a literary research paper over Joseph Heller, and was having a difficult time finding a quality source to cite from. Hopefully you don't mind if I use your review, the rough draft is actually due tomorrow, and the summary of Something Happened is the last section of the paper I'm having trouble finding information on.

It's a shame there's not that much information though, I'm really interested. I was only able to read through half of Catch-22, and from what you say about Heller's writing here it sounds like he evolved in his satirical skills from the earlier novel to this one. Any idea if his other novels he wrote later are any good? ^^~