I grew up loving the children’s books “The Berenstein Bears.” Only … that’s not what they’re called. Apparently they’ve always been known as the “Berenstain Bears.” I could have sworn it was “stein,” and so do a lot of other people. This phenomenon is known as the Mandela Effect. Imagine this on a massive scale and you have FUCK HAPPINESS by Kirk Jones.
Don’t let the title turn you off: this is an amazing piece of literature and one of my favorite books of the year thus far. While most bizarro fiction tends to rest on the ledge between genre and literary fiction, Jones gives us a beautifully written literary tale with characters as real as you and me.
Told in the second person—a task hard to pull off but done well here—Jones gives us the story of Milton, a miserable recent divorcee who watches the world being infected by the “disease of information,” while his ex-wife harangues him at every opportunity.
But the world is changing and only Milton can tell what and who is real—or can he? Finding a group of like-minded crusaders, he learns that the only way to defeat the entropy oversaturating the world is to feel miserable, hence the title.
My favorite stories toy with our perception of reality. FUCK HAPPINESS does so in spades, to the point that the reader doubts everything around them. I live for that desperate crawling and reaching for what’s real.
All the books I review on this blog are “bizarre,” but Jones’s novel takes the cake. Giant flies working at Super Center, a daycare made out of the carcass of an 8-ton cow, a car with breasts: it’s all there. Completely unapologetic in his weirdness, he makes impossibilities feel prosaic, not forced, gluing everything together with intelligent construction and meaning. It pushes forward on what bizarro can be, while still holding true to the style of the great bizarrists like Kevin L. Donihe.
At times, it was hard to read a book this depressing, even with the frequent doses of well-crafted humor. Almost as if through osmosis, I felt Milton’s misery, which I guess is a sign that the book did its job.
With the exception of Danger Slater’s He Digs A Hole, this may be my favorite book I’ve reviewed here. I heartily recommend it, but only if you’re prepared to have your mind–and your reality–warped.
You can find Fuck Happiness here.