Something Happened

All -text cover of Something Happened is not interesting
Its dust jacket is as boring as Something Happened.

Joseph Heller’s 1974 bestseller Something Happened is a long-winded tale told by a mid-level, mid-career company man, Bob Slocum.

Bob talks like a bright sixth grader, bubbling with joy at potty jokes and inserting “ha, ha” to show when he’s trying to be funny.

Bob had an unhappy childhood, which set the tone for an unhappy life.

Bob became a man in a gray flannel suit who wants desperately to have an even better suit, which he probably won’t get, and even if he did it probably wouldn’t fit right, but he shouldn’t worry about the suit because nothing ever goes right for him and he’s already 40 and he has an unhappy wife and an unhappy teenage daughter, and preteen son who is a mess of insecurities and a brain damaged son who will never mature beyond a five-year-old’s level.

Bob knows he’s a revolting individual, but he is convinced he’ll never change.

He’s right.

Heller takes readers through 560 pages of Bob’s narcissistic monologues, coming back again and again to the same stories and observations that were boring the first time.

Then on page 561, something happens.

By that time, readers will be a numb as Bob is.

Something Happened by Joseph Heller
Knopf, 1974, [1st ed.] 569 p.
1974 bestseller #5. My grade: C

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

After Noon: A marriage saved, novel ruined

For the first 200 pages, Susan Ertz’s After Noon is an enjoyable, plausible story.

Then it becomes preposterous.


After Noon by Susan Ertz

A. L. Burt, 1926. 338 p. 1926 bestseller #9. My Grade: B-.


black and white sketch of forest scene is front cover of After NoonCharles Lester’s life had walked out on him in Italy, leaving behind a note, a check for a hundred pounds, and their twin baby daughters.

Almost 20 years later, a happily celibate Charles has paid the divorce costs, become a successful accountant, and is enjoying life with daughters Venetia and Caroline.

One evening a Mrs. Lydia Chalmers phones, having been told by one of his clients to look Charles up when she gets to England.

Charles extends appropriate courtesies.

Soon Lydia is a regular part of the Lesters’ lives.

Both daughters marry in haste, Venetia to accompany a soldier who’s posted to India and Caroline to assist a comrade in making war on capitalism.

With the girls gone, Charles and Lydia marry.

Tying the knot apparently shuts off the oxygen to Lydia’s brain.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, she convinces herself Charles regrets their marriage. To test him, she intends to leave him, hoping he’ll come after her.

Nothing in Lydia’s prior behavior prepares readers for such self-destructive stupidity.

Ertz rescues the marriage.

She can’t save the novel.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

So Little Time mourns what might have been

birthday cake

Jeffrey Wilson had started out as a journalist with aspirations of a literary career.  The one play of his that was produced, bombed. Now middle aged, Jeff has become a script doctor. Directors respect his ability to sharpen lines so they convey the playwrite’s intent.

Jeff wouldn’t need to work (His wife, Madge, inherited money.), but his self-respect demands it.

He knows he has an instinct for the technical aspects of theater, but feels he lacks the talent to write a good play. But, like everyone at mid-life, he wonders if he might not be successful if he only gives it one more try.

So Little Time is about what happens when Jeff tries one more time.

John P. Marquand paints a placid picture of middle age that roils with an almost adolescent angst beneath its surface. Jeff swings in a minute from feeling Madge doesn’t’ understand him to feeling she knows what’s he’s thinking. But unlike a teenager, he doesn’t let on.

Marquand makes Jeff and Madge very ordinary people, believable and forgettable, like most of the people we come across in our lives.

So Little Time is the story of every man and woman’s middle years. You won’t remember the plot, only the feeling of loss it leaves.

So Little Time
By John P. Marquard
Little, Brown, 1943
595 pages
1943 bestseller # 3
My Grade: B+

Photo credit: Happy Birthday by signalchao http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1305615

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Three Forgettable Novellas in Sermons and Soda Water

Sermons and Soda Water is a three-volume set of  novellas that John O’Hara wrote while working on a big novel.

Each story is told by a writer from Gibbsville, Pa. (O’Hara’s hometown) who has gone on to bigger places, bigger things.  In middle age, each of the writers looks back with a combination of nostalgia and remorse to his youth in the years between Prohibition and Pearl Harbor.

The first novella, The Girl on the Baggage Truck, explores the difference between the kinds of things that matter to people and the facts that appear in their obituaries.

The second, Imagine Kissing Pete, is about a girl who marries on the rebound and discovers the wimp has a totally unexpected savage sexuality.

The third, We’re Friends Again, is a tale about a two loveless marriages, one of which is accompanied by a enduring affair.

O’Hara’s characters live for  booze, sex, gossip, and what generally passes in their set as a good time. The writer-narrators blame the shallowness of their group on Prohibition, as if the individuals bear no responsibility for their actions.

O’Hara’s keen observation and ear for dialogue make the characters live, but nothing can make them attractive.

Fortunately, you won’t remember any of them long.

Sermons and Soda Water
by John O’Hara
Random House, 1960
Vol 1. The Girl on the Baggage Truck
Vol 2 Imagine Kissling Pete
Vol 3 We’re Friends Again
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni