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Friday, January 24, 2014

Why Are You So Sad?: A Novel

If you had the privilege of picking up Jason Porter's Why Are You So Sad?, you might discover a debut novel that is so clear in its own wit and heart that it would bowl you over.

Raymond has a lovely job, a lovely wife, and is absolutely miserable. One night, while lying awake in bed, he realizes that he must determine why everyone is so sad in order to save them. He creates an anonymous survey to collect data with such questions as, "What do you see when you look in the mirror?", and "Are you the person you want to be?" With data he can solve these problems and make the world happy again. That is, if only his wife will let him.

Porter's writing style reminded me of some that I adore, such as Gary Shteyngart (whose recently released memoir is a forthcoming post on this blog) and Adam Ross; it was earnest and full of heart. Raymond is such a sad case, yet I wanted to find him, wrap my arms around him, and hold him still until he could feel not-so-sad himself. He was satirical yet so genuine; his development as a character was just so honest. I loved it.

The whole premise of the book was one part silly (as in funny-silly, not stupid-silly), two parts an honest reflection of who we are and what we've become as a society. Raymond designs funny furniture that is sold in an Ikea-like store, things that we would never buy yet people do. His boss is a bombastic, self-obsessed jerk and his co-workers would rather put on a facade than be who they actually are. I saw this as a representation of the crap we all feel like we need to live. At a baby shower recently I was struck by just how much junk we all feel we need to live; what we really need is simply a roof over our heads, healthy food to eat, and a good book into which to dive. I felt this was a morality tale of sorts; in a very entertaining way, Porter dives into the materialism that has driven American happiness for so many generations and has led us to believe that the more money we make, the more like gods we will be.

None of this has made Raymond happy. But if he can find the root, he can find the solution. Whether he does or not is for me to know, and you to find out.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right:

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