Penguin Group: 1/28/2014
Trade Paperback, 224 pages
Have we all sunken into a species-wide bout of clinical depression?
Porter’s uproarious, intelligent debut centers on Raymond Champs, an illustrator of assembly manuals for a home furnishings corporation, who is charged with a huge task: To determine whether or not the world needs saving. It comes to him in the midst of a losing battle with insomnia — everybody he knows, and maybe everybody on the planet, is suffering from severe clinical depression. He’s nearly certain something has gone wrong. A virus perhaps. It’s in the water, or it’s in the mosquitoes, or maybe in the ranch flavored snack foods. And what if we are all too sad and dispirited to do anything about it? Obsessed as he becomes, Raymond composes an anonymous survey to submit to his unsuspecting coworkers — “Are you who you want to be?”, “Do you believe in life after death?”, “Is today better than yesterday?” — because what Raymond needs is data. He needs to know if it can be proven. It’s a big responsibility. People might not believe him. People, like his wife and his boss, might think he is losing his mind. But only because they are also losing their minds. Or are they?
Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter is a recommended satirical novel.
In Why Are You So Sad? Raymond Champs is going through a hard time. He is a senior Pictographer at the North American Division of LokiLoki, an Ikea-like store. The novel opens with Raymond in bed, pondering whether we have "all sunken into a species wide bout of clinical depression?" He tries to ask his wife about it but as she is less than encouraging him along these lines of thinking, he decides that what he needs is "an emotional Geiger counter that could objectively measure other people for sadness." But how does an average corporate desk jockey come up with a way to measure sadness?
Naturally, Raymond decides to write a questionnaire. He can have people at work take it under the auspices that it is from management. This would provide him with a random sampling of the data he needs to prove that we are all depressed. He knows that his co-workers are all compliant. "They do as they are told, like sheep waiting for paychecks. Corralled over to meetings that serve no purpose. Filling out forms they never hear about again. Sitting in on career development workshops with box lunches and guest speakers who had just flown in from the middle of the country. It was a natural fixture within the terrain, jumping through unnecessary hoops." And so he writes out his questions, many of them unconventional, sends the completed questionnaire to the copier and has 50 copies made.
Immediately his coworkers start answering the questions he poses on the form and putting their completed forms in a basket marked for them by Raymond's cubicle. Questions include, in part:
Are you single?
Are you having an affair?
Why are you so sad?
When was the last time you felt happy?
Are you who you want to be?
Is Today worse than yesterday?
If you were a day of the week, would you be Monday or Wednesday?
I did find the idea that a man might wonder if we are all as a species going through clinical depression intriguing. As Raymond's wife tries to talk him out of his mission, Raymond battles his depression by looking for answers and maybe empathy or camaraderie from others who feel the same way. (There is one scene in a movie rental store that had me thinking that it should have been re-written as an encounter in front of a Red Box because I don't even know of a store location anymore.) While Why Are You So Sad? is smart and funny, I might find it funnier if I worked in a cubicle for a large corporation.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of The Penguin Group for review purposes.