Publisher: Plume (Penguin Group)
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Why Are You So Sad? is a weird story, to say the least. It's the story of Raymond Champs, who is married and working as an artist for a furniture company. He is also suffering from severe depression. The story implies at one point that it isn't his first time dealing with the mental anguish the story centers around. His goal throughout the story is to prove that the human race suffers the same depression. He puts together an emotionally charged survey to collect data from his co-workers, in hopes that he can have his research funded and prove we are all slipping into a dark pit of despair. Why Are You So Sad? is told completely by Ray and consists of his thoughts alone, so the story is mostly from his mind and very little other action.
To be honest, Ray's character and his story never gripped me. Though as I read, I did find some connections between what Ray thinks and life in general. At one point Ray's boss calls him to his office for a chat. Ray spends the next moments wondering what the boss will say and do. All the ways in which the conversation could go in his favor. I realized Ray was looking for something most all of us long for - to be understood or to at least have someone try to understand us. To find that human connection. The irony here is that Ray dismisses every survey answer that doesn't line up with his expectations. Some of the answers line up with what Ray thinks, but not exactly and so he feels people are purposely trying to be difficult.
One thing I did like about this story were the one liners. Most of the good ones are outstanding metaphors, such as: "I could feel her burrowing into my heart. I didn't know if the burrowing was like a kitten cuddling up to its mother or if it was like a chigger depositing its larvae beneath the skin of my ankles." Off the wall and gross, but gets the idea across perfectly! Other one liners were quite meaningful: "She thought I was crazy. But I wasn't crazy. Being aware of a deep hurting inside all of us isn't crazy." It seems to me that people often do hold some searching for meaning or hurt as Ray says. It may be big or small and we don't usually show it, but even the answers Ray's co-workers put on their surveys prove Ray's point to some extent, even if not as extreme as Ray claims.
I feel the sign of true to life events will echo certain feelings and descriptions throughout stories, over time. Imagine how I felt to hear the echo of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby narrator Nick Carraway come from Ray Champs. In a few places Ray talks about how he feels like he is another person for a moment - he sees, hears, feels what the person does. The third time Ray speaks of this experience I recalled Nick Carraway's thoughts while he is caught up in the middle of Tom Buchanan's wild party with Tom's mistress and friends. Looking out a high rise window at the city below Nick says, "...our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without..." Wow, no wonder poor Ray is depressed. It's hard enough feeling for yourself, let alone feeling torn for all of humanity.
Which brings me to my last point...we don't know how Ray becomes so depressed. Which is fine I guess, but we also don't know how the story ends. Yes, there are two endings and it's not like Life of Pi two endings, where you can go back and gather information to see which you think is the truth. I am completely unable to say which one is the actual end. I'm glad I found at least these relate-able pieces mentioned above within the story because otherwise this story just kinda left me hanging from start to finish. Reading a few reviews, I've heard it described as a satire, which would explain my inability to grasp it. Satire typically eludes me. In that case, you can't just read my opinion, so I am including here two of my favorite bloggers' reviews on this book as well, for your further edification: Fourth Street Review and The Relentless Reader. Goodreads is also a good place to get a variety of opinions on a book like this! If you know of other reviews on this book, post them in the comments, I'd like to check them out.