It’s been fifty years since Harper’s Magazine published a serial novel, and an abridged version of J. Robert Lennon’s novel Happyland has won the honor. Although Harper’s has fiction in every issue, at least a single short story, it seems serialization gives more weight to fiction, a weight desparately needed after most magazines have relegated fiction to little-read journals and the Atlantic Monthly has recently decided to drop their short story slot. And I admit – I’m intrigued by Lennon’s story of a doll-maker’s takeover of a small town. Installment #3 just came out in the September issue, and I can’t wait to read the rest.
On the webzine Being There Lennon admits that as he wrote it the story turned into a satire on the current political climate, with the protagonist Happy Masters representative of Karl Rove. In the interview he says, “It’s about people feeling powerless against someone who is a leader that they feel they did not choose.” The political interpretation, however, I feel is one that he has projected on the storyline because of his admitted obsession with hating the Bush administration. The novel could be read just as well by interpreting the corporations as the evildoers – the business conglomerates that can refurbish the landscaping of a city according to their own desires, making it as fake as dolls and dollhouses. This Walmartization of America, I think, it what Happy Masters represents, and it’s an interpretation according to Occam’s Razor – it’s much simpler than the political take. But of course, this is only how I read it, and better books often allow for more interpretations. This is why Jose Saramago’s book Blindness was excellent and his follow-up Seeing hit below the mark: because Blindness allowed for so many metaphorical interpretations while Seeing hammered a single refrain. So perhaps it’s better that Lennon allowed some space for interpretation.
Question for my readers: Anyone out there know how many more chapters there are in the novel?