(Amazon Vine Copy)
Zeke Pappas is on a mission - to compile a list of what makes Americans unhappy. Which is perfect, because he works at the Great Midwestern Humanities Initiative. Aside from having a pretty sweet job Zeke plays father figure to his twin orphan nieces and roommate to his elderly mother. When his mother has a change of heart Zeke needs to find a wife before everything he knows is taken from him.
My American Unhappiness sounds interesting, right? What with interviews of the general population and a man interested in compiling a list of their woes? Only it's not. The actual Unhappiness Project takes up a pitifully small portion of the book. Everything else is Zeke Pappas being....Zeke. This is truly a case of an unlikable protagonist ruining what could be a good book. The problem is that Zeke doesn't understand his life. He thinks everything is perfect, that he'll find love one day and that his ability to predict strangers Starbucks orders is endearing. When his life starts to fall apart he thinks he takes it in stride, but in reality he is crying in his office (which he denies) and proposing to near strangers after a first date. Maybe if My American Unhappiness had been marketed as a man unknowingly coping with some form of mental illness Zeke would be easier to stomach, and truly I tried, but his outbursts and routines broke me down.
While I didn't love the majority of Unhappiness there were a few things that stood out as brilliant. The Unhappiness Project is really interesting. I almost wish the entire book was just interviews with people talking about what makes them unhappy. Really, anything from technology to lack of sleep makes the list. The other thing I love was how well the Midwest was represented by Bakopoulos. Having grown up in Michigan (in Livonia, the city Zeke visits at the end!) and going to school in Illinois I really connected with the Madison setting and the general feeling these often overlooked areas can create. Truthfully, I finished this book because I loved how distinct each place, Madison, Ann Arbor, Chicago, came across.
Definitely not my favorite read of the year, but I'd lay a majority of the blame on the blurb being woefully incorrect and Zeke being a irritating pansy.