ike most of America, Cape Cod has seen the consumer spectacle wash up on its shores. Determined to help nature reclaim her course, one Cape resident decides to blow up some of the area's most expensive beachfront homes.
Spectacular Happiness, a provocative new novel by Peter Kramer, tells the story of a middle-aged junior college English instructor struggling to reclaim the ideals of his youth. Once again Kramer, a psychiatrist who wrote the nonfiction bestsellers Listening to Prozac and Should You Leave?, digs into the human psyche, this time in a work of fiction.
Chip Samuels, a handyman and teacher with radical notions, lives in the small home his immigrant father built alongside the enormous estates on the Cape. Also living nearby is Sukey Kuykendahl, Samuels' former flame and current partner in crime. The two were linked by a love affair between their parents, and their devotion has endured into adulthood.
More important is Samuels' devotion to his wife Anais and the idealistic life they once shared. In a home full of free love and free spirits, Anais developed her pottery while striking out for months at a time to discover her soul. But as Anais' line of pottery grows in popularity, the link between the couple blurs.
Written as a journal for Samuels' teenage son, the novel intentionally glosses over the most private details of his life as a terrorist bomber. Unlike a typical beach read packed with riveting action scenes, Kramer's novel delivers with psychological insights. Motivated by ideals, Sukey and Samuels set out to change the minds of rich vacationers and national consumers. Hunted by the FBI and the scandal-driven media, Samuels turns to his journal to explain his actions to his son and the wife he once cherished. The result is a revealing look into the criminal mind and the genius required to out-maneuver pursuing law enforcement officers.
Kramer builds his work on the mind's desire. It is this desire that leads Samuels to risk all for the sake of gaining back everything, particularly his son. In the end, Spectacular Happiness is an explosion of ideals and a blasting comment on our era of conspicuous consumption.
Amber Stephens is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.