Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2019 July 03 • Wednesday

Eric C. Higgs's The Happy Man is a terrific horror novel with impeccable writing and near perfect pacing.

The story is told in the first-person by Charles Ripley, an average enough sort of person, married, regular sort of job that makes use of his knowledge and experiences, house in a San Diego suburb.

He has everything he's supposed to want except for a child. That's no longer a possibility after a miscarriage makes it impossible for him and his wife Shelly to conceive again, though they're considering adopting.

Things change when the Marshes move next door. Ruskin and Sybil and their son Mark are the perfect of healthy and effortless contentment and fulfillment.

And something about them changes their neighbors. Ruskin is pretty casual about drinking and drug use and the Marshes themselves have an intoxicating and narcotic effect on people, an effect which seems to be slightly addictive to both Charles and Shelly.

Soon enough the neighborhood parties are becoming debauched and violent, illegal immigrants are found tortured to death, people start to disappear and Charles Ripley starts to find his sex drive responding only to rougher and rougher activities, even thoughts of murder.

The Happy Man has a brilliant beginning and first chapter, after which Higgs takes the reader back in time to see what led the main character to the place in which we find him at the beginning of the book.

Once caught up, we're brought to the story's conclusion. It's a fast read and not a particularly long book. While it was absolutely and thoroughly enjoyable, a page-turner that gives you an impressive amount of excellent writing to admire, and Higgs should be commended for keeping the story and plot under control and not flying off the rails into anything too implausible or unrealistic, I found myself wishing that there had been more development of both character and setting.

The suburban environment is interesting enough to leave the reader wanting more, and some characters appear in brief roles but are distinct and intriguing enough for me to wonder what happened to them.

Character names are interesting to note, of course. Sybil is one with obvious resonance of course. Ruskin is a famous name and one of Ruskin's first moves is to demonstrate a surprising knowledge of art.

Shelly is perhaps meant to remind us of some famous Shelleys, Percy and Mary, and the legendary (and apocryphal?) kinky activities they used to engage in with Byron.

Charles himself, as he finds his identity flucutating and mutating, seems to have an antecedent in a certain talented Mr. Ripley.

It's well worth reading and I look forward to trying another one by Mr. Higgs.

The first line is "The Marshes rotted in their house two full days before they were discovered by a deliveryman from Sparklett's".