Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Happyland by J Robert Lennon

2003 & 2013, see below










She was wearing silk shorts and a tank top, white athletic socks and tennis shoes; and her fist, the one that wasn’t holding the phone, shot out at seemingly random intervals to connect with an invisible target. When Happy answered, she stopped jogging and punching and leaned over in concentration…

“What is this?”

“This,” said Jennifer, with obvious delight, “is you, fighting me, for the privilege of buying my gas station.”…

Happy reached not for the doorknob but for the pair of shorts hanging on the wall. She shucked off her sweats, pulled on the shorts, and cinched them tight. Then she put on her gloves, smacked them together, and spat. “Get in the circle, slut,” Jennifer croaked.

Happy stepped over the tape. “No tits, no kicking.”

“Fair enough.”

Outside, the oily toll of the Crim Hall bell sounded over the town. “Now have at me, trailer trash,” the doll mogul growled, and she socked Jennifer Triesman right between the eyes.




observations: "Have at me, trailer trash"? Was this ever the book for me. Having randomly picked up this author’s Familiar, and adored it, I looked to see what else he’d written, and saw that this book was being published, after a very odd history. So I ordered it straightaway, and oh, it is a good book. It tells the story of Happy Masters, a fierce businesswoman who owns a hugely successful doll company. She visits a small town in New York state, takes a fancy to it, and uses her immense wealth to buy up great swathes of it. The town contains a women-only liberal arts college, and this also is the focus of her attention. Some of the residents are happy to go along with her plans, others resist strongly. The book moves from person to person, from event to event, following this bizarre story.

He is such a good writer – from small perfect phrases (‘a laptop computer the color and thickness of a slate shingle’) to the description of the library: ‘sagging stacks, worthless in the dark: and then suddenly, with the crackling dawn of daylight-corrected light, taking on its glorious burden of meaning.’ The book is a complete joy to read: hilariously funny, and very clever, and obviously satirical.

So far, so brilliant. But there is a whole other feature to this, which is that people have thought that he was actually writing about a real person and a real situation – Pleasant Rowland and the American Girl Company (a business venture well-known in my family). That is why the book was dumped by its publisher in 2003, and has only now been put out by a small company. Pleasant Rowland herself – showing some grace - has said that she will not sue because “he said it’s all fictional.”

Author Lennon says “its real inspiration [is] the 2004-era Bush administration that I reviled, and that distracted me from everything in my life that I loved. (Read Mayor Archie, for instance, as Colin Powell.)”

Well. We’ll have to hope that it’s OK to use American Girl dolls for the pictures for this entry.






There she was, wrapped in a pair of gray wool pants and a fluorescent yellow fleece. She looked up at him [Mayor Archie/Colin Powell] and, apropos of nothing, winked.

American Girl doll Samantha has starred on the blog before, but might be hard to find. J Robert Lennon is here.

9 comments:

  1. I defy anyone to read that snippet and not want to continue. (Moira - what are you trying to do to me?) I have passed on his Mailman book before - maybe a mistake?

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    1. I'm very complimented! I just looked up Mailman, and wouldn't have rushed to read it, but will definitely be choosing something else by him soon.

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  2. When I passed over Mailman - I was kind of reminded of Bukowski's Post Office probably because of the closeness of the professions; though Bukowski is a lot bleaker - making an educated guess here. Someone else I need to re-visit probably 2020 along with Frayn!

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  3. Having raised two sons news about dolls real life and fictional is beyond my real life experience. It does sound like there is a book in the story of the author getting the book published.

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    1. No, you definitely need daughters to know about American Girl (you don't need to be American - I'm not). But yes, the story of the publication of this book is riveting.

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  4. Moira - Oh, this does sound like an excellent read. And I'm very intrigued by the story-behind-the-story. I hope you'll post about it. And it's interesting; my daughter was never much into the American Girl dolls I know they've been wildly popular but never much in our home. *shrug* Anyway, the writing style, just from the snippet you've shared, seems terrific.

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    1. I think he's a fantastic writer, I'm surprised he's not better known, perhaps he'll have a breakthrough book soon. And I think he did use the idea of the doll company as a framework for writing what he wanted, rather than JUST writing about dolls.

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  5. I do remember that I was intrigued by Familiar when I read your earlier post. The excerpt here does not pull me in... but all the rest that you said about the book does. Sounds like I will have to read some books by this author.

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    1. He is good, Tracy, I do recommend him. I'm wondering which of his to read next.

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