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My American Unhappiness Hardcover – June 7, 2011

19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Bakopoulos's wan second novel (after Please Don't Come Back from the Moon), Zeke Pappas, the director of a humanities institute in Wisconsin, is conducting an epic survey of American unhappiness, a project he considers his life's work. Misery is a hobby of this self-regarding misanthrope, whose interest in others' sadness can verge on fetishism ("Show me a sad woman, and I will fall in love"). As if to oblige his brooding, fate afflicts him with a relentless barrage of personal tragedies. Zeke, who is already a borderline alcoholic widower caring for his two orphaned nieces, learns that his mother is dying of cancer and that she plans to deny him custody of the girls unless he gets married before she dies. His candidates are a barista, his assistant, his neighbor, and, naturally, Sofia Coppola—though, really, any female will do. Zeke, unfortunately, comes off as more odious than endearing, glib and pompous for all of his slapstick moping, and lacking the depth of character needed to reveal him as anything other than an unpleasant schmuck, which is especially unfortunate considering Bakopoulos's wit and breezy prose. (June)
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My American Unhappiness "shimmers with mischief and offbeat charm. A dark entertainment infused by a bluesy yearning for a better America."
-Kirkus Reviews

"Bakopoulos writes with great heart and a cold eye, and his limpid, ironic prose will appeal to those who like the early work of Martin Amis."
-Library Journal"My American Unhappiness is a smart, funny, charming novel - an incisive critique of the way we live now, but aremed, unlike contemporary satire, with a big, generous heart. I got addicted to the misadventures of Zeke Pappas. I didn't want the book to end."
-Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply

"In Zeke Pappas, Dean Bakopoulos has invented a man for all rainy seasons - a horny, heartbroken cousin of Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe, telling a long, tall tale of anomie in the heartland."
-Tom Piazza, author of City of Refuge

"If the nature of despair, as Kierkegaard wrote, is to be unaware of itself, then Zeke Pappas is its perfect spokesman: a blithely deluded nebbish whose epic longings—to document the emptiness at the center of American life and to win the heart of Sofia Coppola and/or his local Starbucks barista—propel him into ever more twisted predicaments. There's no such thing as unhappiness when you're holding a Dean Bakopoulos novel in your hands."
- Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines

"Vivid as a searchlight gliding across suburban picture windows , MY AMERICAN UNHAPPINESS displays its author's saddened comic wisdom, as apparently self-effacing as it is marvelously inventive and observant. Dean Bakopoulos is a writer to watch, a novelist to cherish."
- Peter Straub, author of A Dark Matter

"Zeke Pappas, the visionary behind the American Unhappiness project, is the perfect hero for our times - an age of J. Crew catalogs and Starbucks lattes, of political absurdities and almost-fractured families barely holding themselves together. In telling Zeke's story, Dean Bakopoulos brings together razor-sharp comic timing, brilliant social commentary, and big-hearted compassion that embraces the imperfection of American life. The result is a smart, funny and exceptionally entertaining book."
-Alix Ohlin, author of Babylon and Other Stories

"My American Unhappiness is a major accomplishment from one of my generation's finest storytellers, a profoundly funny, moving, beautifully-detailed, and ultimately hopeful portrait of our country in a certain moment. Its self-deprecating hero, Zack Pappas, earnest, kind, and brooding, with wry intelligence and deep compassion, is indelible. I loved every page of this book. The torch has been passed -- Dean Bakopoulos is our next great Midwestern writer."
- Davy Rothbart, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas: Stories, founder and editor of Found Magazine, contributor to public radio'sThis American Life

"Dean Bakopoulos in an American prophet -- who divines the end of optimism in this brilliant new novel that will choke you with tears and laughter. My American Unhappiness deserves a hallowed place on the shelf somewhere among Studs Terkel's Working and Walker Percy's The Moviegoer. "
Benjamin Percy, The Wilding  and Refresh, Refresh


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151013446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013449
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,496,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Dean Bakopoulos is the author of PLEASE DON'T COME BACK FROM THE MOON and MY AMERICAN UNHAPPINESS, both published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jen Congiliando on May 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a novel that I was very excited to read, because it deals with a very relatable issue for people my age, the "Gen Y" crowd. That is the issue of our collective unhappiness, our dissatisfaction with life in general. In recent years I've personally dealt with this issue, mainly stemming from job frustration and having a BA degree that I've never really used. My friends and family have all at one point expressed a similar feeling of general malaise, whether it be related to jobs, relationships, money, or living situations. So why are Americans so unhappy?

In My American Unhappiness, Zeke Pappas tries to find the answer to that very question. As the head of a project called "The Inventory of American Unhappiness," he collects interviews with people across the nation in an attempt to distill a singular answer to why, despite greater (relative) wealth and opportunity than people of other countries, Americans are generally unhappy. While working on this project, Zeke finds himself entering a dark period of his own life. He is trying to come to terms with being a young widower, while taking care of his sick mother and fighting for custody of his orphaned nieces.

This is a very deep and meaningful story, with an unexpected plot twist and a surprisingly uplifting ending. Well written and thought-provoking, the book is filled with poignant comments on the hopes of young Americans:

"...that life will offer you much, that you will have choices upon choices set out before you like a feast, and all you have to do is choose the kind of happiness you would like to pursue."

And the reality when they grow up:

" don't care how somebody's novel, thesis, art, job, marriage, life is going...
Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By glparker389 on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Poor Zeke Pappas. Will he ever catch a break? His losses prove to be our gains. Dean Bakopoulos uses Zeke's turmoil as the basis for a deft satire, a penetrating look at the first decade of the 21st century. The author took a chance with this novel, his second. Satire isn't easy to pull off, but Bakopuolos manages the feat. When you put it down My American Happiness, you realize there's more to Zeke -- and to the book -- than meets the eye.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Cotner on June 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a fun, quick read. I have to say, I was very surprised when I read the reviewers who said they found it depressing: I laughed out loud several times and smiled quite a lot at the storytelling. At first I found the hefty dose of "mainstream lefty" political commentary a bit heavy-handed, to the point of didacticism. However, as the novel progressed I began to appreciate the way the politalk actually suits the plot.

As end of the novel approaches, the plot takes a bizarrely comic (one might almost say "comic-bookish") turn -- to the point that I wondered how on earth Bakopoulos was going to steer smoothly into an ending. But he managed to pull it off with flying colors, and I closed the book happy!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen T. Hopkins VINE VOICE on September 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Protagonist Zeke Pappas in Dean Bakopoulos' new novel, My American Unhappiness, may be the poster boy for why some politicians want to stop government funding for arts and humanities projects. Zeke is director of the Great Midwestern Humanities Initiative, based in Madison, Wisconsin, and his special area of interest is "The Inventory of American Unhappiness," which assembles all the whiney ways in which people are bummed by the speed bumps of life and the many irritations that can be part of every day's experiences. This amusing and offbeat satire will appeal to those readers who like a spot-on critique of contemporary life, but one that doesn't take itself or ourselves too seriously.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on June 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I savored this book and didn't want it to end. I loved the writing, thought it was funny, wry and of course also tragic. It seemed to me spot on about life in America today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Todd Neumann on November 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is fun and thought provoking. Traveling with Zeke is a wild ride that sometimes will make you laugh out loud, might cause you to cover your eyes and shake your head, and occasionally will leave you a little sad. Mr. Bakopoulos shares a character that we can see living a life of self-delusion, interspersed with self-destruction, and he is occasionally a jerk. But, nonetheless we care about him from page one and root for him until the last. Maybe Zeke will get it right one of these days.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By brjoro VINE VOICE on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Well, certainly the topic of Dean Bakopoulos second novel 'My American Unhappiness' has been tackled before, American apathy, consumerism, trying to find meaning in our abundant country, etc. But what makes this novel special is Bakopoulos narrator, a fantastically written character named Zeke Pappas. By turns pompous, sweet, clueless, loyal and obnoxious, he nonetheless takes this novel from a standard 'state of american angst.' He is simply a great character, and you will be subsequently appalled, infuriated and then charmed by his actions. The dialogue is whip-smart and keeps the story moving. Again, a reader stumbling upon this may read the plot summary and think 'eh, been done before' and they won't be wrong, but this is a really fun read, well written and crafted, and I hope that the reading public takes a chance and that this book finds an audience! Well done Mr. Bakopoulos...
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