Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

More Than Turmoil of the Adolescent Mind

by CHARLES R. LARSON

There’s a perverse desire for understanding in Manuel Joseph’s second novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People, undertaken by one of the most miserable characters of recent fiction.  Joseph’s central character is a bereaved father, named Ousep Chacko, whose son committed suicide three years earlier when he was seventeen.  No parent wants to lose a child under any context, and many hardly survive the loss without inflicting pain on others—the people who ought to be able to help understand the situation.  It is that loss of Unni Chacko that propels Joseph’s brutal but also exquisite narrative, grasping the reader and not releasing him from the story until the final page.

After his son’s death, Ousep drinks himself into despair each night, turns into a slacker on his job as a journalist, ignores or vilifies his wife and surviving son, while he spends most of his time trying to talk to anyone who ever knew the boy, including all of Unni’s close friends.  It’s a daunting undertaking that initially leads Ousep to attempt his own suicide each night.  But he’s so intoxicated that he fails, though he alienates not only his wife and son from him but almost everyone else on the street where they live.  In addition to the drinking, he smokes two cigarettes at a time.  When asked why two, his stock response is always, “Because three is too much.”  If the booze won’t kill him, the nicotine certainly will.

Unni Chacko had his own personality quirks.  He spent most of his time drawing cartoons, many of them with empty balloons over the characters’ heads where the captions would normally appear.  Initially, Ousep attempts to decode these cartoons, but there’s little success following that route in spite of the fact that many of the people in the cartoons are manurecognizable.  There are a number of cartoons of his wife, Mariamma, who would just as soon her husband were dead.  Then there’s Thoma, Ousep’s second son, who suffers from an obvious identify problem because he adored his older brother and would like to understand the reason for Unni’s death as much as his father would.

Unni was totally supportive of his twelve-year-old brother when the two were both alive, always patting him on the back and telling him how unique he was.  On one occasion, Thoma made a confession to his brother:

“In the mornings, soon after I wake up, my penis grows on its own.”

“My God, Thoma, are you serious?”

“I promise.”

“Thoma, you are one of a kind.”

“I am?”

“You are a mutant, Thoma.”

“What do mutants do?”

“A mutant has abilities other humans do not have.  You are a mutant, Thoma.”

It was the happiest moment in Thoma’s life, even though Unni did say, “But it is a talent, Thoma.  It is not a sentiment.”

Though a good bit of the story is comic, there’s a much darker undertone that takes over by the end.  Slowly, Ousep—who was always too busy to give his remarkable son much attention—discovers many things about his son that he never knew, especially an obsession with death, a knack for rectifying human fallibilities and excesses of others, and a close coterie of friends who shared many of his obsessions (some considered paranormal).  It is in these friendships (both with other boys his age but also a younger girl) that Unni walked closer and closer to death, while outwardly manifesting joy and happiness.  It is worth noting that in his “Acknowledgements” at the end of the novel, the author mentions his encounters with neurosurgeons and neuropsychiatrists.

Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People is an intellectual puzzle (slowly unraveled) but also a triumph.  Finishing the novel, I had a distinct regret that I did not read Serious Men, the writer’s highly-awarded first novel, when it was published three years ago.  His second novel puts him in the company of other major novelists from the Indian subcontinent.  One thing is certain:  I will be awaiting Joseph’s next novel.  In the meantime, I’ve got that earlier one to catch up with, and you, dear reader, perhaps have two.

Manu Joseph: The Illicit Happiness of Other People

Norton, 344 pp., $15.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]