Friday, July 16, 2010

Six great business novels

James P. Othmer is a former creative director at advertising giant Young & Rubicam, and the author of the novels Holy Water and The Futurist.

He named six great business novels for The Daily Beast. One title on the list:
Something Happened
by Joseph Heller

Heller’s 1974 followup to his classic Catch-22 was not the yuk-fest his readers had anticipated. Robert Slocum, the protagonist of Something Happened, works for an unnamed, suffocating corporation. By wisely never describing the products or services Slocum’s employer produces, Heller leaves it to the reader’s imagination, and I assumed the worst, most toxic sort of widgets and propaganda. His marriage spins without passion in the same murky suburban vortex that begat the likes of American Beauty decades later and our antihero’s prevailing philosophy can be summed up with this sparkly gem of optimism: “The world just doesn’t work. It’s an idea whose time is gone.”

In his review of Something Happened for The New York Times Book Review, Kurt Vonnegut (whose Player Piano ranks among the all-time best corporate satires) called it “one of the unhappiest books ever written… black humor, with the humor removed.” And Vonnegut’s essay was an unmitigated rave! Why? Because Heller revisited the seemingly played out, oft-trodden late-1960s territory of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and The Hucksters and he made it his own. Through Slocum’s sad, desperate, soul-sucking voice, he articulated the post-war angst and vocational disillusionment that many of his generation felt, but couldn’t bring themselves to discuss.
Read about another book on the list.

Something Happened appears among Luke Leitch's top ten cursed second novels, Mike Figgis' six best books, and is Neil Cross' pick for Most Under-Rated Second Novel.

Visit James P. Othmer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue