Brock Clarke


Reviews, News, and Praise for The Happiest People in the World

“Which is to say that the book is also emotional, sometimes very sweetly so. Clarke’s work can be seen as a continuing investigation into American haplessness; his characters are forever powerless against their own worst impulses, and against the vicissitudes of fate. Here, he establishes those characters via long internal monologues, wherein the main players beat themselves up, calm themselves down and contemplate what one calls “the miserable, brutish world” as they construct the misapprehensions that propel the narrative. I can think of no other contemporary novel so preoccupied with the nature of familial love and romantic longing, and no other in which people are so concerned with their own obligations, and so far from comprehending what they actually are. The narrator, who at times presents as a cruel manipulator of human beings, can nevertheless delight with wise, sympathetic asides about their foibles.”
New York Times Book Review

“So, friends, put Brock Clarke on your reading list. His latest, The Happiest People in the World, ranks among the funniest and most relevant social satires I’ve read. It’s one of those rare titles that will appeal to those who restrict themselves to “literary” fiction and those who love page-turning genre titles.”
 Dallas Morning News

“The latest from Clarke (Exley) is a whiz-bang spy satire bundled in an edgy tale of redemption. Impulsive cartoonist Jens Baedrup leaves his wife and home in Denmark with the help of love-lorn CIA spy Locs (aka Lorraine). The reason: an impressionable and lonely immigrant takes offense at Jens’s drawing of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban, hovering above the “happiest people in the world… frowning inexpertly.” And so begins clueless cultural criminal and eternal optimist Jens’s transformation into Henry Larsen, a Broomeville, N.Y., high school guidance counselor. Henry woos Ellen, a heartbroken bar owner. Meanwhile, Locs is futilely and obsessively in love with Ellen’s husband, Matty, a school principal. These mismatches ultimately set off a violent chain reaction of discovery and revenge. As Henry’s world comes undone, the identities of his unlikely protectors are revealed in a hilarious series of bloody blunders. The bizarre moose-eye view opening to this culture-clash horror tale expertly sets the tone for what’s to come. Clarke dazzles with a dizzying study in extremes, cruising at warp speed between bleak and optimistic, laugh-out-loud funny and unbearable sadness. His comedy of errors is impossible to put down.”
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

“Clarke and his newest protagonist play with fire in the figurative sense in the writer’s fourth, most combustibly funny novel, “The Happiest People in the World,” a transcontinental screwball comedy that mines cathartic (if not consoling) laughs from such front-page flashpoints as global terrorism, government surveillance, and gun ownership.”
Boston Globe

“This absurdist new novel inspired by the Danish Muhammad-cartoon controversy may be a literary first: a book that feels like the love child of Saul Bellow and Hogan’s Heroes, full of authorial cartwheels of comedy and profundity.”

“In Brock Clarke ’s dark and funny satire “The Happiest People in the World”, a Danish cartoonist facing death threats after drawing a picture of the Prophet Muhammad is placed in a witness protection program and sent to live in Broomeville, N.Y. Why Broomeville? His CIA handler is in love with the sleepy town’s high-school principal. Coincidentally, Broomeville is also a CIA recruiting hub—half its residents are armed spies, and the mounted moose head in the local lodge has a hidden video camera.

If all this sounds ludicrous, that is Mr. Clarke’s point. A more peaceable soul than the cartoonist doesn’t exist (he orders his eggs sunny side up rather than poached or scrambled because it seems “the most optimistic and least violent of the three choices”), but his arrival riles up the agents, who find themselves incapable of deciding whom to protect and whom to watch. The ridiculous confusion of infidelities, secret identities and double-crosses that plays out reflects the absurdity of any country obsessed with spying on its own people. And the paranoia and bloodshed that consume Broomeville in the novel’s grim finale are entirely self-inflicted.”
Wall Street Journal

“An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2014: It’s long been a credo of mine: any story that begins with a stuffed moose head on the wall of an upstate bar, a spy camera embedded in its eye looking down on a sprawl of gunshot victims… well, attention must be paid. And my attention to Brock Clarke’s weird, wise and witty fifth novel, The Happiest People in the World, never wavered. In a nutshell, sort of: a Danish cartoonist named Jens unwisely draws a cartoon of the Prophet, making him an assassin’s target and prompting the CIA to relocate him to America, where he poses as a high school guidance counselor in a small, strange New York town. That’s where the story gets truly bizarre, often hilariously so. I’m no fan of the term “laugh out loud,” but I did audibly chuckle, a lot. (Example: “it’s all good” really is “the most idiotic expression on the planet.”) Without giving too much away: Jens (now known as Henry) works for Matthew (the school principal), both nursing secrets, both victims of lies. But beneath the convoluted entanglements of small town love and small town spies—veering too close to madcap at times—there’s a deceptively touching story of flawed men who aren’t quite sure how to be fathers, husbands, or men. Or happy.” (Neal Thompson)

“Clarke’s comedy is complex and packed with big ideas, but also wonderful sentences. The cartoonist, on his way to his new life, having just taken a nap on a bus, feels “that pleasant, superior, invincible feeling one gets when one has just woken up. It’s the way cats must always feel.” Clarke’s characterizations are equally deft, as when the teenage Kurt observes his uncle who is “reading the paper, making those clucking sounds designed only to make the person sitting with you finally ask, What? But Kurt refused to ask it. He was busy feeling melancholy.” Clarke says a great deal about each person in just a few sentences, and the whole book is like that: exuberantly packed.”
Chicago Tribune

“I should pause here to note the awful timeliness of The Happiest People in the World, featuring as it does a cartoonist in hiding from those who supposedly wish to kill him. But Clarke’s novel is also resolutely untimely, neither a fanged satire on Muslim fundamentalism and thoughtless Western provocation, nor an in-depth examination of cultural differences. (Indeed, it is hard to say whether the cartoonist or the terrorist is less invested in his respective task.) Rather, the novel is a comic fable about that most timeless of human attributes: cluelessness. And that cluelessness is understandable given that Clarke’s comic world — like most comic worlds — is plagued with a systemic confusion over everything from people’s identities to the definition of an inanimate object like a hunting rifle: “…It was one of those hunting rifles that you could swear was really an assault rifle, but if you swore that, then the hunter who carried the assault rifle would swear that is was really a hunting rifle because he hunted with it.”
The Millions

The Happiest People in the World” is…both very funny and very sad….I didn’t realize until I sat down and started writing this exactly how deeply The Happiest People in the World cut me. It’s sharp like that: it takes a while for your brain to register the sting.”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

“In a madcap, international adventure, Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, asks what would happen if one of the happiest people in the world–a Dane–was forced to flee Denmark and reinvent himself in a small town in upstate New York. Clarke’s answer will make readers laugh, scratch their heads and maybe even investigate their high school guidance counselors a bit more closely.”
Shelf Awareness, Dedicated Issue of Maximum Shelf

“Clarke…explore[s] the elastic and elusive nature of optimism while satirizing the spy novel and honing his skills as an absurdist. By taking the happiest person in the world out of his natural habitat, we see more clearly American’s futile preoccupation with trying to find happiness at any price.”
Maine Sunday Telegram

The Happiest People In The World is a hilarious spoof of American and European culture, politics, terrorism, marriage, romance, secret agents, small-town life, even the absurd advice of high school guidance counselors. This would be a wildly funny, unconventional spy and political correctness novel if its wacky characters and comic situations weren’t so sadly real.
Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel

“Dear Brock Clarke:
Please stop being disingenuous about whether you know how to get a novel off to a snorting good start. You gave The Boston Globe a self-deprecating interview that was just plain inaccurate about your work. How could you say “I often start my books with cheap irony,” when your latest, “The Happiest People in the World,” begins with a raucous bar scene featuring party streamers, smoke, prone bodies, spilled fluids and a stuffed moose with a surveillance camera in its left eye?”
The New York Times

“In the wacky, new spy novel The Happiest People in the World, Brock Clarke crafts a satirical commentary on how paranoia and spy-obsessed culture can go wrong – and when this many CIA operatives are involved, something is always going wrong.”
Everyday E-Book

The Happiest People in the World is a sizzling spy-novel satire.”
—Minneapolis City Pages


“This madcap adventure mixes small-town teachers, barkeeps, teenagers, and fry-cooks with international spies, terrorists, and political refugees. But it is the writing itself that is the true star here, as Clarke delves deep into the hidden and mixed emotions we carry for the ones we love, turning out sentence after sentence that will make you stop to admire its clear, crisp daring and perfect delivery. Yes! I thought, as I read these pages. That’s how you write a good book.”
—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

“This novel, good lord, is his best one yet. Brock Clarke portrays, with terrifying accuracy, the lives of people who constantly ruin things without ever quite understanding why or how, which eventually gives way to a strange kind of invulnerability. There is no writer who does this better than he does, creating that wonderful mixture of unexpected, sharp comedy and genuine empathy. The Danes may be The Happiest People in the World, but you can easily join those ranks simply by reading this amazing book.”
—Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

“If the literary category of ‘mordant fable’ exists at all, it may be because Brock Clarke invented it. The Happiest People in the World is everything we fans have come to love from a Clarke novel: playful and deliriously skewed and somehow balancing between genuinely great-hearted and gloriously weird.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia

“Brock Clarke’s hilarious new novel starts out in rural Denmark, then takes us someplace really foreign and utterly weird: upstate New York. The parallel universe Clarke creates there is both our world and not, and like his baffled, yearning characters, we navigate it with surprise and wonder.”
—Richard Russo, author of Elsewhere

“Murder, arson, adultery, drugging and drinking, cruel politics—reading a book crammed with such activities can make the timid and yearning among us feel like The Happiest People in the World.”
—Edith Pearlman, auhor of Binocular Vision

“Like no other writer in contemporary American literature, Brock Clarke has a way of looking at us, I mean looking straight at us—warts, lots of warts, and beauty and hypocrisy and love, too, the gamut. And he’s done it again in his brilliant The Happiest People in the World . . . I for one am grateful he’s out there—watching our every move.”
—Peter Orner, author of Esther Stories

News, Features, Interviews, and Other Stuff