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Spectacular Happiness

Spectacular Happiness

A Novel

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A daring, controversial novel that The New York Times hailed as "good fun" and full of "rewarding surprises," Spectacular Happiness entertains while raising challenging questions about what constitutes the good life. Booklist calls it a "stunning first novel."
Chip Samuels is an English teacher, part-time handyman, and devoted husband and father. He is also a one-man protest movement. Egged on by an ex-girlfriend, Chip has been blowing up trophy homes along the beaches of Cape Cod. The fastidiously crafted explosions capture the public's imagination -- and rather than being reviled as a terrorist, he finds himself the idealized center of a media circus.
Darkly intelligent, provocative, and compelling, Spectacular Happiness has been praised both as riveting storytelling and as masterful social criticism by one of the most respected observers of contemporary American culture.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743223249 | 
  • June 2002
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Calling

I saw you today on the midday news: a teenage boy, skinny body draped in an oversized Chicago Bulls shirt, eyes shaded by a Swoosh cap, matching red, with brim curved just so. I knew you instantly, before the label was added to the picture, before you spoke. I was struck by an emotion that had more force than direction. It could as easily have been despair as elation. A phrase ran through my mind: already grown. Words that toward the end of his life my father repeated when he caught sight of me. In the midst of disorientation, what abides is wonder at a child's taking adult form.

You looked thinner than I... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for Spectacular Happiness
Though it is built around the elements of a comic thriller -- explosions, mobsters, federal agents, and a man on the run -- Spectacular Happiness proves to be a romance and a thoughtful exploration of the nature of happiness: What sort of private contentment is possible in a culture focused on achievement, accumulation, and celebrity?
Discussion Points
1. How does the form in which this novel is written -- a series of diary entries by the protagonist -- enhance the story it tells? Does it succeed in focusing attention on the book's central themes of intimacy and disrupted family life? How would the novel and our response to the main character be different if its narrative were told more conventionally -- in the third person, for example?
2. In his "interventions" on beachfront homes, Chip claims to take care to avoid harming people -- to create absurdist theater. Is Free the Beaches a terrorist movement? To what range of activities can the tem terrorism apply? How do you think Chip's actions would be received in the current climate?
3. Chip tells us his therapist felt he was too timid and withdrawn. "When will you swing boldly into life? he asked. I have tried of late to answer that challenge" (pages 44-45). Chip discusses a number of philosophical motives behind the Free the Beaches movement, but might there be psychological explanations for his behavior, as the above qu see more

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