Heller’s 1974 followup to his classic
Catch-22 was not the yuk-fest his readers had anticipated. Robert Slocum, the protagonist of
Something Happened, works for an unnamed, suffocating corporation. By wisely never describing the products or services Slocum’s employer produces, Heller leaves it to the reader’s imagination, and I assumed the worst, most toxic sort of widgets and propaganda. His marriage spins without passion in the same murky suburban vortex that begat the likes of
American Beauty decades later and our antihero’s prevailing philosophy can be summed up with this sparkly gem of optimism: “The world just doesn’t work. It’s an idea whose time is gone.”
Something Happened for The New York Times Book Review, Kurt Vonnegut (whose
Player Piano ranks among the all-time best corporate satires) called it “one of the unhappiest books ever written… black humor, with the humor removed.” And Vonnegut’s essay was an unmitigated rave! Why? Because Heller revisited the seemingly played out, oft-trodden late-1960s territory of
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and
The Hucksters and he made it his own. Through Slocum’s sad, desperate, soul-sucking voice, he articulated the post-war angst and vocational disillusionment that many of his generation felt, but couldn’t bring themselves to discuss.
See also: Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End.