“Something Happened” (Post 3/3)

SH 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 2/3

It is not true


It is not true that retarded (brain-damaged, idiot, feeble-minded, emotionally disturbed, autistic) children are the necessary favorites of their parents or that they are always uncommonly beautiful and lovable, for Derek, our youngest child, is not especially good-looking, and we do not love him at all. (We would prefer not to think about him. We don’t want to talk about him.)


[39] Reference:

Virginia is dead too now and would be a peeling water bag of emphysema and phlebitis if she were not.



Phlebitis or venitis is the inflammation of a vein, usually in the legs.


I can feel my thigh bone connected to my ass bone on this wooden chair. I can feel this hand and forearm of mine lying on my brown desk blotter.


For the first and only time, we are given information about how Slocum is conveying his story to us: writing at his desk.

[41] Reference, Vocabulary:

I was Captain Blood the pirate on that staircase, a dauntless freebooter.



Captain Blood: His Odyssey (1922) is an adventure novel by Rafael Sabatini. It was famously made into a swashbuckling 1935 film, starring Errol Flynn.


noun – a pirate or lawless adventurer.


I am especially good on suicides and breakdowns. I can see them coming years in advance.


[43] Reference:

If only one could vent one’s hatreds fully, exhaust them, discharge them the way a lobster deposits his sperm with the female and ambles away into opaque darkness alone and unburdened.


According to Maine Lobsterman’s Community Alliance:

The lobster that wins the fight will take the female into his cave and protect her from predators since she is vulnerable while molting. Once she has shed her hard exoskeleton, the male gently turns her over and pierces her abdomen with his first pair of pleodods. He deposits sperm packets into her sperm receptacles; these she will store for up to 15 months before she releases eggs.

When the female judges the time is right, she releases the eggs which pass by the seminal receptacle and are fertilized with the stored sperm.

[44] Reference:

“Why are you wearing covert cloth, for Christ sakes?”



A heavy tweed named after a covered area rich in game wildlife that would serve as a starting point on a hunt.

[45] Vocabulary:

It’s a gelid feast, a scene of domesticity chiseled on cold and rotting stone.

(p.402 – 403)


adjective – icy; extremely cold.

[46] Slocum rarely speaks about the world outside his head, office, or family, so this seemed a strange aside the first time I read Something Happened:

I don’t hear voices. (I sometimes wish I did.) I’m not crazy. I know people do talk about me behind closed doors but I don’t imagine I hear what they are saying. Yesterday, a little boy was found dead in the cellar of an apartment building, sexually mutilated. The murderer is still at large. Another child was found dead in the airshaft of a different apartment house, thrown from the top. Nobody knows why. (A girl. The police have not yet determined if she was sexually abused.) Another child is missing from home after several days, and no one knows why. Family and neighbors wait for word in pessimistic suspense, lighting religious candles for the soul already in solemn expectation of the worst. I believe she’s been murdered (and I wonder why she has been. In Oklahoma today farmers decided not to deliver cotton at the price agreed to, because the price of cotton had doubled between the time the sales were made and the time the contract forms were prepared. Buyers will take them to court. Bodies of other people’s children are found in airshafts and stairwells all the time, and I’m not even sure what an airshaft or stairwell is).

(399 – 400)

…but then, on this reading, a line near the end jumped out:

I think I’m in terrible trouble. I think I’ve committed a crime. The victims have always been children.


Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Have I watched too many third-act split-personality movies? Could it possibly be what Heller was thinking? I doubt it, but man, did this make me stop and think. And the title of the last section (“Nobody knows what I’ve done”) seems more ominous in this light.

[47] Reference:

[I] offer the others some sweet potato pie, which is made of yams.

There are no sweet potatoes anymore. (They’re gone too. I don’t know what became of them.)



Although the soft, orange sweet potato is often called a “yam” in parts of North America, the sweet potato is botanically very distinct from a genuine yam, which is native to Africa and Asia. The United States Department of Agriculture requires that the label “yam” always be accompanied by “sweet potato” in U.S. retail sales of sweet potato. Sweet potatoes have become less popular since the mid-20th century.


My psychiatrist enlightens me on this question by replying:

“Why do you ask that?”


“You bite your fingernails,” he guesses.

“-I’m afraid. I have dreams and thoughts that trouble me, even when they’re pleasant. I get headaches. I’m dissatisfied. I believe I suffer from thought disorders. I don’t hear voices-”

“Ah,” he observes in a long sigh.

“-and I never have hallucinations.”

“What would you call this?” (…)

I don’t have a psychiatrist.

(p.404 – 405)


I surmise that he too may be vulnerable to that squirting impulse to mimic hatefully someone who is vexing him unbearably.

It’s called echolalia.

It’s called echolalia (the uncontrollable and immediate repetition of words spoken by another person. I looked it up. Ha, ha).

Ha, ha.

Ha, ha.

(It can go on forever.)

It can go on forever.


[50] Reference:

“The last thing this Jack Green wants is someone secure enough in his job with me to walk around whistling Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor.”



Great Mass in C minor is the common name of the last musical setting of the mass by Mozart (not counting his unfinished Requiem Mass). He composed it in Vienna in 1782 and 1783.

[51] Reference:

The sagging pavilion of my tapered, made-to-measure, swiss voile, powder-blue shirt.



Voile is a thin, plain-weave, semitransparent fabric of cotton, wool, or silk.


“Do you know what’s happening to the price of meat?”

“It’s high, isn’t it?”

“I don’t, either. But I worry what would happen to me if I did have to know.”


[53] Slocum’s sexual smugness is his most irritating feature; his view of women as conquests the worst part of the book. There is no sense that Heller sees his actions as disgusting or wrong:

I have a coded list of twenty-three names and numbers in my billfold, my office, and in a bedside drawer in Red Parker’s apartment, and I might get a Yes from any one of them on any given evening or afternoon.



Even now I’ll rape my wife, only my wife, force her at times when she doesn’t want to and I feel I have to have it from her at once.



I wonder what I would feel like if my wife ever did come home smelling of another man’s semen. I think I would die a sudden, shriveling death inside. (…) It would fill me with saddest resignation and lifelong self-disgust.


Slocum tells us that his wife is as awful to him as he is to her – he never feels guilty about his treatment of her. But the worst Heller tells us about Slocum’s wife is that she has started to drink during the day and drinks too much at parties. Slocum never wonders if this behavior has anything to do with his treatment of her, or her reaction to his continual cheating.

I’ll have to leave her if I find [she’s been cheating]. I have something more potent than an ordinary hypocritical, male chauvinist double standard to give me the strength and determination to walk out: I have insecurity.


[54] Reference:

He buys puzzles, perpetual-motion gimmicks, and other novelties in Brentano’s book store.



Brentano’s was an American bookstore with numerous locations in the United States. As of the 1970s, there were three Brentano’s in New York (the flagship store being in Rockefeller Center). It was founded in 1853 by August Brentano and absorbed into Borders Group in the U.S., then liquidated in the U.S. in 2011.

[55] Reference:

In southern Louisiana, I learned recently [here there is a parenthetical aside that lasts seven-and-a-half pages], motorists driving at high speed swerve out of their way deliberately to kill nutrias dazed by their headlights.

(p.429 and 436)


The coypu, also known as the river rat or nutria, is a large, omnivorous, semiaquatic rodent. Although it is still valued for its fur in some regions, its destructive feeding and burrowing behaviors make this invasive species a pest.


I like her too much for:

“Nothing – nothing – nothing, damnit. You didn’t do anything wrong. It has nothing at all to do with you. You aren’t important enough to affect me. Don’t you see?”

That might hurt her feelings too.


[57] Reference:

She may have heard of Camus because he was killed in an expensive sports car.



Albert Camus died on January 4, 1960 at the age of 46, in a car accident near Sens, in north-central France. In his coat pocket was an unused train ticket. He had planned to travel by train with his wife and children, but at the last minute he accepted his publisher’s proposal to travel with him. The car was a Facel Vega HK500.

[58] Reference:

They’ll call [Derek] Benjy.



Derek is brain damaged and Slocum may believe he will be called Benjy because of the 1951 documentary film Benjy:

Henry Fonda narrates this short film about a boy who was handicapped from birth. An orthopedic pediatrician wants to provide a therapeutic regimen that could cure the child, a scoliosis patient, but first he needs to convince the boy’s parents, who have rejected the child because of his disabilities.

[59] Reference:

London Bridge is falling down and was shipped to Arizona as a tourist attraction.



London Bridge was built in the 1830s and formally spanned the River Thames in London. It was dismantled in 1967 and relocated to Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The Arizona bridge is a reinforced concrete structure clad in the original masonry of the 1830s bridge, which was purchased by Robert P. McCulloch (1911 – 1977) from the City of London. McCulloch had exterior granite blocks from the original bridge numbered and transported to America.


That octopus of aversion had been there in bed with me and my wife again this morning when she awoke me with languorous mumbles.


[61] Vocabulary:

I am anaclitic, I guess, when I’m not sadistically aggressive.



adjective – (psychoanalysis) – relating to or characterized by a strong emotional dependence on another or others.

[62] Reference:

I wish I could get my hands on a good charlotte russe again.


From bettycrocker.com:

Charlottes are molded desserts. The mold is lined with cake and filled with fruit and custard or cream mixed with gelatin. Charlotte russe, made with ladyfingers and rich Bavarian cream, is served with fruit sauce.

[63] Reference:

The Fuggers were all right as long as they stayed in Germany: then they sent their mothers here.



The Fugger family is a German family that was a historically prominent group of European bankers. The family controlled much of the European economy in the sixteenth century and accumulated enormous wealth.

The main family line ended in 1981, but I can’t find reference to the family coming to America.

[64] Reference:

Spotless, dry-cleaned pink gabardine trousers.



noun – a smooth, durable twill-woven cloth, typically of worsted or cotton.

[65] Reference/Translate:

Oh, that abominable cafard.



French: depression; melancholia.

There’s no getting away from it

[66] Another event that I don’t trust the reality of (see Post 2, note [36]):

Today at lunchtime a man fell dead in the lobby of my office building as he was coming toward me. He was a large, portly, elderly man with woolly white hair and a gray pinstripe suit, and he was carrying a slim, black umbrella in one hand and a brown attache case in the other. He was a majestic, attractive figure who looked great enough to be president of General Motors until his face hit the floor. He was too old to be me.



I believe I understand now why I get along so well with women when I want to and have so much trouble getting along with my children. I treat my girlfriends like children and expect my children to behave like grown-ups.


[68] Reference:

All young doctors, I’m convinced, strive to be beetle-browed, and all older ones have succeeded.



adjective – 1. having heavy projecting eyebrows.

2. scowling or sullen.


They said I was perfectly normal – which was the most deplorable thing I have ever been told!


[70] References:

Minikins move, and I can feel them. (…) Ugalino eats a head: mine (that son of a bitch).




adjective – (archaic) – small; insignificant.

Count Ugolino della Gherardesca (~1220 – 1289), count of Donoratico, was an Italian nobleman, politician and naval commander. He was frequently accused of treason and features prominently in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Ugolino was detained in a tower (along with his two sons and two grandsons). The keys were thrown away and the prisoners left to starve.

According to Dante, Ugolino is in the second ring of the lowers circle of the Inferno. His punishment involves being entrapped in ice up to his neck in the same hole with his betrayer, Archbishop Ruggieri, who left him to starve to death. Ugolino is constantly gnawing at Ruggieri’s skull.

Dante also gave Ugolino the line that hunger proved stronger than grief while he was trapped with his offspring in the tower. This has been interpreted in two ways, either that Ugolino devoured his offspring’s corpses after being driven mad with hunger, or that starvation killed him after he had failed to die of grief. The first interpretation has proved the more popular. For this reason Ugolino is known as the “Cannibal Count” and is often depicted gnawing at his own fingers.

My boy has stopped talking to me

[71] Reference:

I’ll bet I’m probably one of the very few people in the entire world who know (not knows) that livid means blue and lurid means pale.



Lurid currently means very vivid in color (bright, brilliant, vivid, glaring, etc.) but in the mid 17th century the meaning was “pale and dismal in color.”

I had no idea. I thought Heller put this in as a purposeful mistake.

Nobody knows what I’ve done 

[72] A thread through the book has been a typist in Slocum’s office who is going crazy:

There is one typist in our department who is going crazy slowly and has all of us afraid of her.

Her name is Martha. Our biggest fear is that she will go crazy on a weekday between nine and five. We hope she’ll go crazy on a weekend, when we aren’t with her.



I think that maybe in every company today there is always at least one person who is going crazy slowly.


As the book ends, Slocum tells us:

Martha the typist is gone. (In every office in which I’ve ever worked, though, there was always at least one person who was going crazy slowly, and I am waiting to see how long it will take Personnel and Providence to send along the next one.)


The person going crazy is already there. It’s Slocum.

Something Happened is a literary Rorschach test. If you can stick it out through 500+ pages in an unlikable, repetitive mind, you’ll probably interpret many things differently than I did.

It’s worth reading if you enjoy experimental fiction. If nothing else, Heller was ambitious. Start with Catch-22, though. If you can’t get through that, don’t even try Something Happened.

Next week, some classic Kurt Vonnegut with Cat’s Cradle.


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