Alan Michael Parker’s The Committee on Town Happiness is a peculiar yet enjoyable novel. Told in ninety-nine short stories, the novel chronicles a town under siege through the increasingly tyrannical eyes of the eponymous Committee on Town Happiness. The town, itself, remains unnamed, and the exact nature of the threat is ambiguous at best. People are disappearing; bones have been found in shallow graves, and at the outskirts of town is the ominous “Edge.” No one seems sure what it is, and the Committee desperately tries to avoid mentioning it by name, let alone describing it. But it’s coming closer. The Committee is certain of that.
Alan Michael Parker brings a sharp, satirical edge to this tale of existential armageddon. It is frequently funny. While the town descends into panic and people vanish in the night, the Committee makes proclamations regarding the trees, the air, and the ice cream vendors, and assigns happiness numbers to a range of activities and engages in meaningless votes. These sections are filled with a surreal and biting absurdity, but simultaneously, Parker highlights the darker side of power and fear, all relayed through Committee euphemisms. The Committee on Town Happiness eventually assumes complete control of the government and recruits an unknown but growing number of spies. It’s proclamations and votes never loose their edge of nervous absurdity, but they read differently as the Committee begins to assert its will and demand happiness.
There is no plot, as such, nor central characters. Names reappear and some of their characteristics shine through. Mrs. Han, the wife of a vanished Committee member, is embroiled in a scandal that like the edge, remains vague and undefined.
Alan Michael Parker is a poet as well as a novelist and it shows. Words are chosen carefully and deployed deliberately. The Committee on Town Happiness is a satirical, biting, occasionally lyrical, but often frustratingly vague novel. I enjoyed it immensely but the pieces never quite cohered into a larger tapestry. There were the seeds of something brilliant here, but parts were, ultimately, greater than the whole.
**Received copy from NetGalley for Review
Hmm, I’m sort of intrigued, even if, as you say, all the parts don’t ultimately come together–I may need to look into reading this. I hesitate to throw around the word “Kafkaesque,” since it’s incredibly overused, but it sounds kind of Kafkaesque?
The ending was a bit of a fizzle, but deliberately and pointedly so, I think. And you’re right, “Kafkaesque” is so overused that it has kinda lost its meaning.So I shall hesitantly say yes, it is a bit Kafkaesque. I wouldn’t have used that word, but it definitely fits. More than other times I’ve seen it used.
It’s definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future …though, realistically, probably only for after I’ve gotten through the other hundred or so books on my to-read list.
I know how that goes. So many books, so little time. But then, as far as problems go, that’s not half bad..