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My American Unhappiness Hardcover – June 7, 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 20 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 (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,761,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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:

"...you don't care how somebody's novel, thesis, art, job, marriage, life is going...
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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I very much enjoyed Dean Bakopoulos's first novel, Please Don't Come Back from the Moon , and I was eagerly anticipating his next one. This second novel didn't let me down. In fact, I think it offers an even more impressive display of his talents. He took a major risk here in creating an often unlikeable protagonist in Zeke Pappas. But Zeke's as lovably unlikeable as Ignatius J. Reilly of A Confederacy of Dunces. Zeke has major challenges to contend with on the personal and professional front. Personally, he's raising his nieces with his mother after his brother died in Iraq and the brother's wife died shortly thereafter. But the mother has terminal cancer. Her will stipulates that if Zeke can't find a wife within 120 days of her death, the girls' aunt will get custody of them. Determined to beat that deadline, Zeke has three potential candidates - a Starbucks barista he has a crush on, his assistant at work, and a neighbor who's in the midst of a divorce after her husband cheated on her. And oh, yes, he also has one long-shot candidate - Sofia Coppola. Professionally, he's in trouble because an obscure branch of the Homeland Security Department is investigating possible misappropriations of the funds he's been using for the Great Midwestern Humanities Initiative, a program design to foster interest in the humanities. Zeke hasn't done anything wrong himself, but his biggest patron, a closeted gay philanthropist has been using the program's credit card to cover his expensive trips with gay prostitutes and a closeted gay Congressman.Read more ›
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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I truly loved this book. I attended UW Madison so I may have been biased but --I know Zeke. Zeke is a
character that I have often encountered as a (now retired) philosophy professor - a brilliant man whose sense of humor is the only thing that keeps his life from becoming a tragedy.
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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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