Happiness TM by Will Ferguson Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Happiness TM by Will Ferguson; Canongate, 2003.  309 pages; reading level: adult.

First written in 2001, then re-titled and re-issued in 2003, this is a satirical look at pre-9/11 America through the eyes of a Canadian writer.  It was recently recommended by one of my favorite authors (also Canadian) so I was surprised to find it so dated and disappointing. The premise is intriguing:  A mysterious fellow named Tupak Soiree writes a comprehensive self-help book that actually works. The havoc unleashed by its publication sends the United States into an apocalyptic crisis as Americans shed their bad habits in droves:  Tobacco companies and drug-dealers go out of business, the demise of materialism shifts the fashion industry to Upper Rubber Boot, North Dakota as Calvin Klein models carry “Will pout for food” signs, and everyone begins smiling inanely.  Everyone, that is, except Edwin de Valu, the hitherto directionless Gen X junior editor who originally discovered the manuscript and brought it to the attention of his superiority-oozing Baby Boomer boss. Insisting that it’s “one damn thing after another…the promise of happiness, not the attainment of it” that’s still “the only game in town,” Edwin colludes with his boss and a de-throned ethics writer to track down the reclusive Tupak Soiree and take him out.  There’s humor in spades here but the implied rallying cry behind the trio’s crusade (bring back the drug dealers!) is morally troubling as is the fact that religious Americans (also snickered at by our northern neighbors, though not in this book) might take issue with the definition of happiness on which the entire plot rests. Ferguson casts his satiric eye so widely – on Gen-X-ers, Baby Boomers, America’s dithering efforts at gun-control, every aspect of the publishing industry to name a few – that the pace suffers and the main focus promised in the John Updike epigram, “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,” is all but buried.  Perhaps I would have responded to this book more positively had I read it during America’s “unipolar moment,” when it was originally written, but I found very little on offer here for the contemporary world.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

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