Summary

Charles Ripley has a good job as an engineer, a pretty wife, and an expensive house in a fashionable San Diego suburb. But it isn't until Ruskin Marsh moves in next door that Ripley realizes how passionless his life really is. Marsh, a connoisseur of the arts, high-powered lawyer, model husband and father, and effortless seducer of women, is so supremely alive that Ripley finds himself irresistibly drawn to him.
But after Marsh's arrival, local girls begin to vanish, marriages end violently, nights are split with endless, desperate screams, and horribly mutilated corpses are found. Soon, Ripley becomes caught up in an accelerating maelstrom of sex, drugs, violence, and ghastly, unimaginable rites...and begins to see the beauty of life.
From its profoundly unsettling first pages, Eric C. Higgs's The Happy Man (1985) reveals the nightmare underside of the American dream and brilliantly echoes the Gothic horror tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and Roald Dahl.
"The Happy Man is an essential '80s horror read: smart, sharp, unforgiving, unlike anything else in the genre." - Too Much Horror Fiction
"[A] grisly shocker, understated for the most part but carrying the impact of a fist to the stomach...a most promising debut." - San Diego Union
"A thoroughly engrossing Gothic horror story." - South Bend Tribune
©1985, 2018 Eric C. Higgs (P)2018 Valancourt Books LLC
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Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By AudioBook Reviewer on 15-04-18

a neighborhood friend telling you a crazy story

In the opening moments of Eric C. Higgs's The Happy Man: A Tale of Horror, we learn of a murder - the Marsh family has been shot dead next door. We're told this by Charles Ripley, whose first-person account gives us insight into the San Diego neighborhood he inhabits. The victims next door are not the only murders this neighborhood has seen recently, and Ripley recounts the events leading up to this penultimate act of violence. In fact, strange things have been brewing ever since the Marshes moved in...

Outside of his marriage, Ripley doesn't have a lot of friends and few men he can connect with. He quickly bonds with the newly arrived Ruskin Marsh, and their wives form a fast friendship. As Ripley and Marsh become better acquainted with each other, Charles is introduced to a very rare work of writing from the sexual libertine Marquis de Sade. Entranced by Marsh's own sexual exploits and lack of inhibitions, Ripley soon finds his own constraints diminishing and begins straying into extramarital affairs and, soon enough, darker exploits encouraged in de Sade's writings.

Narrated by Matt Godfrey, The Happy Man is a slow-burn work of suburban horror that finely balances placidity with hair-raising, horrifying drama. This is a well-crafted work of psychosexual drama, and Godfrey's reading of the material captures the feel of a neighborhood friend telling you a crazy story. At only a bit over 5 hours long, Godfrey keeps the narrative moving along nicely. Higgs, meanwhile, keeps the work grounded, and the moments of horror are never implausible or outlandish. Higgs earns each of his twists and turns by giving us believable characters and a pot-boiler narrative that slowly builds toward the inevitable.

Written in 1985, and recently reissued by Valancourt Books, The Happy Man taps into the anxiety of The Other with its themes of sexual promiscuity, casual drug use, fear of immigrants, and the rise of the Christian Right and their idea of what constitutes family values. While this latter is never overtly mentioned, given the period Higgs was writing in I can't help but feel like much of this book is a response to the political climate surrounding it. Marsh is very much a hedonistic figure, the kind of guy Nancy Reagan would encourage you to Just Say No! to, and his arrival to this suburban neighborhood threatens to destroy everything his fellow yuppies hold dear, upsetting the balance of their perfectly coiffed all-American lifestyles. With its themes of racism and the sexual objectification of women, The Happy Man is very much a product of the 1980s, yet much of horrors its reacting to, and certainly expounding upon, still feel topical today. Higgs takes all the fears of 80s Evangelicalism and runs with them toward their worst-case finale - the destruction of families at the hands of an outsider. It's telling, though, that while Mexican immigrants are often blamed for some of the seedier aspects of this white collar, upper-crust San Diego subdivision, the root cause of their problems lie much, much closer to home. Perhaps, in between the moments of eroticism and shocking violence, Higgs was trying to tell us something after all.

Audiobook was provided for review by the narrator.

Please find this complete review and many others at my review blog.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Simone K on 24-03-18

Moderately Good

I wanted to like this book so badly. From the description to the narrator to the cover, it sounded right up my alley. I had the hardest time getting into this one. It seemed to get interesting in bursts to me but never really grabbed me. Perhaps it just wasn't for me! Matt Godfrey literally always does fantastic work, so it may be worth the listen just for him. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone only because it didn't strike a chord with me.

I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook by the author, narrator, or publisher.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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