A thirty-something year old stuck in a bogus dead-end job, Zeke spends his time trying to answer the question “Why are Americans so unhappy?” As part of his Inventory of American Unhappiness project, Zeke has conducted thousands of interviews with Americans, getting them to divulge the root of their unhappiness. In his personal life, Zeke also has his fair share of unhappiness to contend with. He is aimless, depressed, self-indulgent, and completely delusional about every aspect of his life (when his mother encourages him to make a list of romantic prospects, he includes Sofia Coppola). These delusions often lead to self-destructive behaviors.
There were times when I was reading My American Unhappiness that I could have sworn author Dean Bakopoulos had gone poking around my brain. Considering the subject matter, I’m not quite sure what this says about me (or my mental state). All I know is that I was immediately intrigued by the book’s premise. As the book progressed, I was alternately really depressed at how much of my life was mirrored in those pages and really amused by all the messed up things going on in Zeke’s mind.
With all the depression going on in this book, you’d think it was a total downer. Not so. My American Unhappiness is full of wry, dark humor. The book pokes fun at an assortment of 21st century first world problems, like the smart girl who gets an anthropology degree only to become a Starbucks barista (switch women’s history for anthropology, and you have me post-Master’s degree). The “funny” things in this books actually aren’t all that funny (again, I speak from experience), except…they kind of are.
Some of my favorite parts of the book were the interviews Zeke conducted. They run the gamut from the typical (lack of money, sexless marriage) to the more quirky (an old Debbie Gibson video). Several spoke of job-related unhappiness:
Anna M., 31, lecturer, Rocherster, MN:
The inability of undergraduate students to correctly use commas makes me unhappy. Seriously, I teach four sections of freshman composition each semester, and this about ruins my life.
I feel her pain.
Even the chapter titles reflect the self-absorption of our social networking society. Reading like Facebook status updates, each chapter title begins with “Zeke Pappas is ___.” Zeke’s
kind of a twisted asshole, but he’s a funny one. He’s a man who’s kicking and screaming to not be a part of the status quo, even though you know that deep down, nothing would make him happier. Still, even though he’s a delusional jerk, there’s truth to Zeke’s observations about society. This is perhaps the most disconcerting thing of all, and the book is all the better because of it.
My American Unhappiness was released on June 7, 2011. These were my favorite passages from the book.