The Happiest People in the World (Hardcover)
Algonquin Books, 9781616201111, 352pp.
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
“This madcap adventure mixes small-town teachers, barkeeps, teenagers, and fry-cooks with international spies, terrorists, and political refugees. But it is the writing itself that is the true star here, as Clarke delves deep into the hidden and mixed emotions we carry for the ones we love, turning out sentence after sentence that will make you stop to admire its clear, crisp daring and perfect delivery. Yes! I thought, as I read these pages. That’s how you write a good book.” —Hannah Tinti, author The Good Thief
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.
About the Author
Praise For The Happiest People in the World: A Novel…
“A literary first: a book that feels like the love child of Saul Bellow and Hogan’s Heroes, full of authorial cartwheels of comedy and profundity.” —GQ
“[Clarke knows] how to get a novel off to a snorting good start . . . The Happiest People in the World begins with a raucous bar scene featuring party streamers, smoke, prone bodies, spilled fluids and a stuffed moose with a surveillance camera in its left eye . . . [Clarke has] success in dreaming up oddball originals that have instant appeal.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The funniest and smartest novel I have read in years. Yes! I thought, as I read these pages. That’s how you write a good book.” —Hannah Tinti, author The Good Thief
“[Clarke] creates books that taste like delicious cuts of absurdity marbled with erudition.” —The Washington Post
“[The Happiest People in the World] is relentlessly, and often hilariously, wrong on purpose. Brock Clarke . . . has never shied away from the ridiculous plot twist or the implausible personality quirk. And this new book is packed with them: Indeed, it is built almost entirely out of them. There is essentially nothing in it that, removed from context, makes any sense. Not that you would want it to . . . I can think of no other contemporary novel so preoccupied with the nature of familial love and romantic longing, and no other in which people are so concerned with their own obligations, and so far from comprehending what they actually are.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A zany and fast-paced book that explores the myriad ways people of all nations make themselves and others unhappy . . . Clarke's comedy is complex and packed with big ideas, but also wonderful sentences . . . This book is a goofball, but a goofball with an edge; its humor and quirkiness are not ends in themselves, but doors that Clarke uses to open the view out onto a bigger vista: the span of America, unto itself, and in relation to the world.” —Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row
“A whiz-bang spy satire bundled in an edgy tale of redemption . . . Clarke dazzles with a dizzying study in extremes, cruising at warp speed between bleak and optimistic, laugh-out-loud funny and unbearable sadness. His comedy of errors is impossible to put down.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Brock Clarke's hilarious new novel starts out in rural Denmark, then takes us someplace really foreign and utterly weird: upstate New York. The parallel universe Clarke creates there is both our world and not, and like his baffled, yearning characters, we navigate it with surprise and wonder.” —Richard Russo, author of Elsewhere
“[A] dark and funny satire . . . The ridiculous confusion of infidelities, secret identities and double-crosses that plays out reflects the absurdity of any country obsessed with spying on its own people.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Murder, arson, adultery, drugging and drinking, cruel politics--reading a book crammed with such activities can make the timid and yearning among us feel like the happiest people in the world.” —Edith Pearlman, author of Binocular Vision
“If the literary category of ‘mordant fable’ exists at all, it may be because Brock Clarke invented it. The Happiest People in the World is everything we fans have come to love from a Clarke novel: playful and deliriously skewed, and somehow balancing between genuinely great-hearted and gloriously weird.” —Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia
“Brock Clarke has long been one of my favorite writers, and this novel, good lord, is his best one yet. In The Happiest People in the World, Clarke portrays, with terrifying accuracy, the lives of people who constantly ruin things without ever quite understanding why or how, which eventually gives way to a strange kind of invulnerability. There is no writer who does this better than him, creating that wonderful mixture of unexpected, sharp comedy and genuine empathy. The Danes may be the happiest people in the world, but you can easily join those ranks by simply reading this amazing book.” —Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang