Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Happiest People in the World

The Happiest People in the World
Brock Clarke
Algonquin Books
November 4, 2014
Idgie Says:

I have to say that I started by reading this essay that came with the press release.  I LOVED the essay.  If I can love that, how can I resist the book?  Well, you simply cannot.

Quirky, sardonically amusing, a bit of a giggle-fest.. and then there's a thinking moment.

A Danish Cartoonist in a protection program for an un-witty cartoon - hiding in New York....where we are sure he blends.....  can you beat that for a story?  

I don't think so.  


On the Writing of The Happiest People in the World

An Essay by Brock Clarke

In the spring of 2005, I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark. I’d heard of Denmark, of course, but I never thought about it as a place where I’d actually ever go, or where I ever especially wanted to go. If I’d thought of Denmark at all, I’d thought of it as the country with all the windmills and tulips. Which meant that when I was thinking of Denmark, I was really thinking of the Netherlands. That’s how little I’d thought about Denmark before Spring 2005.

But wow, I loved it once I got there. I loved it the way you can only love a place that never existed for you before you went there and to your great surprise started loving it. I loved it the way you can only a love a place that is the opposite of the other place you’ve loved. The other place I’d loved—upstate New York—is famously unhappy. But the people of Denmark are consistently declared by this poll and that study to be The Happiest People in the World. They were the exact opposite of everything I had ever loved. God, I loved them so much.

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Excerpt from The Happiest People in the World

Baseball meant it was time again for the annual student-faculty baseball game. Henry had never completely understood why this game took place during football season, nor why it was called a student-faculty baseball game when the only students who played in the game were already on the baseball and softball teams, and the only faculty who played were the faculty who coached baseball or softball. The only thing that made sense about the game was that everyone—students, faculty, staff—was required to go to it: in the case of an out-of-season, inaptly named student-faculty baseball game, you had to require attendance if you wanted people to attend.

The game had already started by the time Henry and Jenny had arrived. Jenny went to lean against the fence with the other kids who dressed like something was wrong with them. Henry went to sit by Dr. Vernon, who was sitting by himself halfway up the bleachers. He was wearing a blue and yellow Hawaiian shirt with parrots perched on either end of the branch. The branch was supposed to span the shirt wearer’s pectorals, but Dr. Vernon was hunched over in such a way that it looked as though the parrots were feasting on his nipples.

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Book Description:

The Happiest People in the World

Take the format of a spy thriller, shape it around real-life incidents involving international terrorism, leaven it with dark, dry humor, toss in a love rectangle, give everybody a gun, and let everything play out in the outer reaches of upstate New York—there you have an idea of Brock Clarke’s new novel, The Happiest People in the World.

Who are “the happiest people in the world”? Theoretically, it’s all the people who live in Denmark, the country that gave the world Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and the open-face sandwich. But Denmark is also where some political cartoonists got into very unhappy trouble when they attempted to depict Muhammad in their drawings, which prompted protests, arson, and even assassination attempts.

Imagine, then, that one of those cartoonists, given protection through the CIA, is relocated to a small town in upstate New York where he is given a job as a high school guidance counselor. Once there, he manages to fall in love with the wife of the high school principal, who himself is trying to get over the effects of a misguided love affair with the very CIA agent who sent the cartoonist to him. Imagine also that virtually every other person in this tiny town is a CIA operative.

The result is a darkly funny tale of paranoia and the all-American obsession with security and the conspiracies that threaten it, written in a tone that is simultaneously filled with wonder and anger in almost equal parts.