What Happened in 'Something Happened'

"Something Happened" is Joseph Heller's second book. His first book was "Catch 22" which has often been called the greatest book of the 20th Century, while "Something Happened" is a much less likeable book, a thoroughly unenjoyable book, a well-crafted work of art, hard to put down, but even harder to pick back up.

But what happens in Something Happened? For the most part, Nothing Happens. Page after dreary page, dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of pages (it feels like millions of pages) with nothing happening (it's compelling, compulsive, but never fun.) (If you hated 'Revolutionary Road' then you'll really hate 'Something Happened'.)

Twenty years after reading "Something Happened", I struggled to remember what happened in Something Happened, and the internet was not very forthcoming.

So here it is. <Blink>Spoiler alert.</Blink> What Happened in Something Happened.

This is very nearly the final page of the book. The bit where something (arguably) happens.

"Something happened!" a youth in his early teens calls excitedly to a friend and goes running ahead to look.

A crowd is collecting at the shopping center. A car has gone out of control and mounted the sidewalk. A plate glass window has been smashed. My boy is lying on the ground. (He has not been decapitated.) He is screaming in agony and horror, with legs and arms twisted brokenly and streams of blood spurting from holes in his face and head and pouring down over one hand from inside a sleeve. He spies me with a start and extends an arm. He is panic-stricken. So am I.


He is dying. A terror, a pallid, pathetic shock more dreadful than any I have ever been able to imagine, has leaped into his face I can't stand it. He can't stand it. He hugs me. He looks beggingly at me for help. His screams are piercing. I can't bear to see him suffering such agony and fright. I have to do something. I hug his face deeper into the crook of my shoulder. I hug him tightly with both my arms. I squeeze.

"Death," says the doctor, "was due to asphyxiation. The boy was smothered. He had superficial lacerations of the scalp and face, a braised hip, a deep cut on his arm. That was all. Even his spleen was intact."

The nurses and policemen are all very considerate to me as I weep. They wait in respectful silence.

"Would you like to be alone?" one murmurs.

I'm afraid to be alone. I would rather have them all there with me now, to see me weeping in such crushing grief and shame. I cry a long time. When I feel I am able to speak, finally, I lift my eyes slowly a little bit and say: "Don't tell my wife."

So that's what happened. Bob Slocum's son was in a minor accident and Bob Slocum smothered Bob Slocum's son to death.

I spoil it for you to save you the tedium of reading it (If I can save just one child from reading this book, then my efforts have not been in vain!) This book is not the best book you've never read nor is it "The most criminally overlooked great novel"(Far from it.) It's just a book. And one which has been read far more times than it deserves.