SOMETHING HAPPENED by Joseph Heller

SOMETHING HAPPENED

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Coming up with a judgment on Something Happened (you'll wait a while for that something to happen -- nothing does until the shattering clincher) should be the hottest game of Russian roulette in town this fall. There's probably more riding on this book than any other in terms of author anticipation and publisher expectation. It runs close to 600 pages and is full of repetition which can be one of those suicidal assets ("call the repetition perseveration" -- that's Heller) in what amounts to a story without a story sans the pseudo of those now dated anti-novels. Heller's novel, Heller's tour de verbal force, Heller's stomp then, is a representation of the underachieved contemporary man boobytrapped all the way from his harassment at home to the office where he's making his way up over someone else's body. Perhaps he's closest to one of Roth's middle-aged, self-made victims, full of lapsed hopes and more guilts than any man should have to assume. Ecce homo -- Bob Slocum, always on the verge of something ominously imminent -- prostate, suicide, failure, death -- while only having experienced a string of little satisfactions, "jobs, love affairs and fornications." Slocum figures negatively as husband of a wife who now drinks too much even if she has become more amatory in the process, father of a daughter who challenges, provokes and undermines him, also of a son who is diffident and withdrawn whom he loves best of all, and non-father of Derek whom they prefer not to think about at all. He's retarded and "looks like lockjaw" when he talks. Hardly a new type, Bob Slocum, on the cramped plateau of middle-age, "tense, poor, bleak, listless, depressed," and rightly feeling that "there is no place for me to go." He's infinitely vulnerable. And undecided. Should they put Derek away? Should he get a divorce? "l have acrimony. . .I have more pain than acrimony." Obviously there is none of the rogue absurdism or imaginative verve of Catch-22; only a circular sameness which one may justify (even if it is monotonous) with the Teacup observation of a much more serene man, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "What if one does say the same things -- of course in a little different form each time -- over and over. If he has anything to say worth saying, that is just what he ought to do." It is worth saying (or reiterating -- however you want to look at it) to the degree that Slocum is symptomatic of this age -- beleaguered all the way from his bad teeth to his rotten conscience. We know him only too well and it is the recognition factor which counts, along with the book's bravura, expertise and cumulative hook. . . . Whatever, wherever, Heller's Kvetch-570 will be read and read and read.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1974
ISBN: 0684841215
Page count: 582pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1974




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