My American Unhappiness – Dean Bakopoulos

My American Unhappiness(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishg Company 2011)

The almighty, wonderful, incredible, amazing, hilarious, insightful Kurt Vonnegut gave a lecture that described the three shapes stories can take in literature, and drew a chart that showed their storyline patterns (see the video here). He explained that all books we read are re-interpretations of one of those models. I’m not entirely sure what to do, because I can’t imagine Kurt Vonnegut every being wrong, but I do believe that we found a fourth story shape.

Dean Bakopoulos unleashes a book as massive and iconic as the Mississippi River, sharing the hopeful and hopeless relationship the Midwest of America has with itself. My American Unhappiness is a memoir/confessional/journal/collection of field notes of Zeke Pappas, director of the project, “An Inventory of American Unhappiness,” who canvases the Midwest (specifically Madison, WI, where he lives), and asks, “What makes you unhappy?” The responses he gets are beautiful examples of Bakopoulos’ under-the-radar humor that streams in political sighs, daily routine eye-rolling, quirky annoyances, profound realizations of sadness, insightful shallowness and the relief of being able to lighten your burden with confessions to an anonymous ear. 

This river of a book takes Zeke Pappas and throws him in a current that doesn’t follow the up-or-down patterns that Vonnegut describes. Instead, the story flows in an absolutely new direction, and is entirely refreshing and washes away any preconceptions we’ve had of what books can be.

Taking this brand new shape of a novel, Bakopoulos’ writing pushes itself even farther with the very human and very unfaithful narration of Zeke Pappas–who is describing the world he sees and how he goes about his life. A real human voice has been created here, full of personal remarks, self-importance, vanity, hope, humor and a desire for happiness.

Plunge into My American Unhappiness immediately and discover a fourth shape books can take, and stay for the smart and funny writing.