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Book Review: My American Unhappiness: If You Buy This Book Your Life Will Be Better

Whether traveling to work to pay off your debts, traveling to Uni to incur them, or sitting at home watching repeats of Location, Location, Location and risking repossession or being kicked out by your landlord because you have lost your job in the recession, this is the book to download or pick up.

Welcome! In the coming weeks and months I hope to make you cry, laugh, confess undying love, find causes, fill your hearts, enjoy your weekends and change your life with literature. Why not aim big, ay? I won't just be using my powers to request the cream of the new from publishers, but I'll be delving back into the murky depths of time, past all clichés like 'murky depths', to bring you the best of the oldies - the books you should have read but didn't because you were part ovum, part the corresponding male gamete (it seems weird to say sperm in a book review), or perhaps just a speck in the imagination of your grandparents.

For my inaugural review, I thought I would start small and select a book that dealt in something simple, uncluttered and maybe a bit vapid. Instead, My American Unhappiness inadvertently came my way and now I feel the unshakeable urge to write about it.

First off, it is always a good sign if at some point during the book you do an impromptu chest-heaving sob. This was one of those impromptu chest-heaving sob books.

I saw a lot of my friends, and myself, in Zeke, a 33-year-old American widower in a well-paid but vague humanities job threatened by budgetary woes and government interference, who is awkward with women, despite the voice in his head being charming, insightful, intelligent and funny, and who gets through his somewhat pointless days by ignoring the spiraling financial situation at work and drowning his sorrows, first in Starbucks, then at cocktail hour, and then after cocktail hour, out on the deck in his underwear. If you couldn't see yourself in any of the above, however, there is the fact that work has become a necessity to support Zeke's unusual and much-loved home, but it is sadly also the thing that keeps him away from it. Zeke has lived with his mother, and April and May, his two orphaned nieces, for a long time, and has come to think of them as his daughters. Watching the girls playing in the yard, Zeke thinks:

'Suddenly it is as if they were the most important thing in the world to me, as if losing them would stop time and shatter everything. And then I realize this: they are and it would.'

Your chest heaves just a little, and you know what he means. Then the story takes an unexpected and horrifying twist: Zeke's old and very traditional mother is dying, and decides to leave custody of the children to Zeke's married, female, Republican cousin who they see twice a year, because Zeke is not married, because he is a democrat, because he has worked to support his nieces for the last five years and she believes he works too much, and because he is a bit weird. Which is undoubtedly true. Zeke is weird in a bookish, shy, atheist, leftie, intellectual geek fashion, it's just that in the context of his religious, right-wing family he springs swiftly from 'unique' to 'oddball'.

My American Unhappiness focuses largely on Zeke's search for a wife - by turns, hilarious, awkward, awful and endearing - but Zeke's love for his nieces is the beating heart of this book. The thinking brain of this book lies in Zeke's personal project, 'The Inventory of American Unhappiness'.

I said I would try to change your life and this is one of the few contemporary works of fiction noble, hopeful and sweetly naïve enough to aim to do such a thing in our cynical, experienced, consumerist, irony-laded modern world, because the aim of Zeke's project is to question why, with all our comfort, wealth and opportunities, we are unhappy, and through this author Bakopoulos is able to philosophize about, ruminate on, and ultimately convince us of the hopelessness of our present way of going about things. Is it our indebtedness and our dependence on corporations to keep our families fed that makes us unhappy? Is it the overwhelming superficiality of our choices (Starbucks-Costa-Café Nero-Starbucks-Costa or Café Nero)? One example of a very good point he makes is that instead of getting into thousands of pounds worth of debt on university course that teach us very little about real life, we should all be taught how to erect a house, and how to grow our own food, so we wouldn't have to work ourselves into the ground paying back all the debt, making the rent and buying ready meals. Another trick he advocates to foster happiness is cocktail hour - at half four, at work...

Clearly a ridiculously relatable novel written by a guy not unlike you and I, My American Unhappiness should be on everyone's reading list this year. Whether traveling to work to pay off your debts, traveling to Uni to incur them, or sitting at home watching repeats of Location, Location, Location and risking repossession or being kicked out by your landlord because you have lost your job in the recession, this is the book to download or pick up. A humourous, warm and intelligent novel - and a warning to us all, to hack our way through the philosophy of twenty-first century culture, and find out what we really want from life.