"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.Read more...
"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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-09-08
- Reviewer: Staff
The latest from Clarke (Exley) is a whiz-bang spy satire bundled in an edgy tale of redemption. Impulsive cartoonist Jens Baedrup leaves his wife and home in Denmark with the help of love-lorn CIA spy Locs (aka Lorraine). The reason: an impressionable and lonely immigrant takes offense at Jens's drawing of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban, hovering above the "happiest people in the world... frowning inexpertly." And so begins clueless cultural criminal and eternal optimist Jens's transformation into Henry Larsen, a Broomeville, N.Y., high school guidance counselor. Henry woos Ellen, a heartbroken bar owner. Meanwhile, Locs is futilely and obsessively in love with Ellen's husband, Matty, a school principal. These mismatches ultimately set off a violent chain reaction of discovery and revenge. As Henry's world comes undone, the identities of his unlikely protectors are revealed in a hilarious series of bloody blunders. The bizarre moose-eye view opening to this culture-clash horror tale expertly sets the tone for what's to come. 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. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman, WME Entertainment. (Nov.)