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Something Happened

Joseph Heller's second novel, Something Happened, appearing thirteen years after the publishing sensation Catch-22, turns the focus of the same jaundiced eye from life in the military to the work and home life of Corporate Man living the American Dream.

Something Happened is much darker than its more highly touted predecessor. While Catch-22 is a frenetically paced book with an omniscient narrator, the bulk of Something Happened is the deep, often repetitive, internal monologue of the narrator, Robert Slocum, who laments the passage of time, the departure of old friends and opportunities, the futility of his career, the stagnation of his marriage, and the impossibility of being a good parent. The book has a fair amount of humor -- Slocum's character studies of those around him are conducted with sadistic glee, his self-analysis is wry and rueful, and his absurdist juxtapositions at times approach those of the narrator of Catch-22 -- but its predecessor's darkest moments set the emotional tone for most of the work.

While, contrary to some reviews at the time, the book is not entirely without a plot -- something big does happen by the book's end, although the book's title refers more to the loss of optimism and hope -- there is not much plot here. Rather, the novel invites the reader to an intimate embrace of the caustic self-criticism and psychic pain of what is objectively a highly successful narrator.

Something Happened did not match its predecessor's level of commercial success, though it was well-regarded by critics. In its moments of humor among unsparing honest, despairing stretches of self-evaluation, it recalls the great works of Chekhov, and prefigures much later works such as the film American Beauty, but without allowing the reader/viewer ironic emotional distance. While, unlike its predecessor, it did not make the Modern Library's list of the top 100 books of the 20th century, it is simultaneously both one of the century's bleakest and most engaging.